The first two Derek Holland starts this season have produced one run allowed in 14 innings, and many Sunday were left with the same thought after watching the left-hander twirl seven scoreless innings.
What would have become of the Texas Rangers’ season had Derek Holland not tripped over his lovable but knee-wrecking dog Wrigley in January and needed microfracture surgery on his left knee that would keep him out for the first 137 games?
The Rangers would have been terrible, of course, though probably not worst-in-baseball terrible. One pitcher working every fifth day couldn’t alone lift the Rangers above all the injuries and the glaring lack of quality replacements.
Some coaches’ jobs would still be thought to be on the line, though they absolutely should not be, and manager Ron Washington would have probably still resigned to tend to a personal matter.
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The season still would have stunk.
But wondering what Holland might have done? That’s fair game after seeing him Tuesday at Kansas City and five days later at Globe Life Park as the Rangers squeaked past Seattle 1-0 to avoid a series sweep and snap an eight-game losing streak.
Holland, though, isn’t wasting time wondering what might have happened if not for that January fall on his staircase.
“I can’t think about that. It’s over,” Holland said. “I’ve got to turn the page on that and continue to build for now what’s going to be 2015. But I want to finish strong.”
Interim manager Tim Bogar, for one, wasn’t afraid to play what-if, even if Holland was. The Rangers would have been “way better off,” Bogar said.
“I think everybody would like to have Derek go out there every fifth day,” he said. “Going forward in 2015, that’s the goal, and we’re a better team with him out there.”
Holland is likely to have four more starts, assuming all remains structurally sound in the knee and elsewhere. Forty innings would be a nice, round number to springboard into his normal off-season schedule to ensure that he will be healthy for the start of spring training.
It appeared Holland might go nine innings against the Mariners, who helped Holland a few times on the bases by running into outs.
He pitched around a leadoff double in the second by Kendrys Morales and a one-out double in the sixth by Jesus Sucre. He faced the minimum from the third to the fifth inning.
He entered the seventh at only 66 pitches, but he allowed two singles and outlasted Stefan Romero on a nine-pitch at-bat to end a 27-pitch inning. Holland gave way to Shawn Tolleson in the eighth, and Neftali Feliz got the final two outs with the tying run at third.
“The long at-bats kind of killed me, but I kept my defense on their toes,” Holland said.
Before Romero batted, Corey Hart reached on an infield single after Holland raced off the mound for a tapper toward the third-base line and slipped to the ground as he turned to throw.
Bogar, pitching coach Mike Maddux and athletic trainer Matt Lucero headed to the mound, worried that the left knee had given out, but Holland quickly shooed them away.
“I got over there pretty aggressively, just wasn’t really in control of my body when it came to slowing it down,” said Holland, who successfully covered first in the second inning on weak flare by Hart.
There’s no telling if Holland would have been this good over the course of 35 starts. His track record suggests that wouldn’t be the case.
He has started fast before, similarly to what he has done this month, before encountering the hiccups that would send Washington to the mound for some quality one-on-one time.
But the way he attacked his rehab and faced the freak injury head-on has revealed to those who didn’t know him or who might have been a little put off by his oftentimes goofy behavior that he is all business when it comes to baseball.
Moreover, he is ready to be a leader of the pitching staff.
“He’s a gamer and he’s a great teammate,” said Bogar, who earned his first win as Rangers manager. “He’s the kind of guy that you can build a whole team around. His attitude, the way he goes about things. The intensity is what I really like.”