Yu Darvish is considered the ace of the Texas Rangers’ rotation, and his electric stuff, seven wins and a baseball-best 105 strikeouts stand as considerable pieces of evidence.
Left-hander Derek Holland, though, could make an ace case for himself after a splendid month of May. He doesn’t strike out as many hitters as Darvish, but all he did in May was win.
He capped a perfect month Friday night by allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings against a Kansas City team that has lost nine of its past 10 games.
Nelson Cruz swatted a three-run homer, and Adrian Beltre went 4 for 4 with a solo shot as Rangers rolled 7-2 to open the three-game series with the Royals and put a close to the Rangers’ second straight 17-win month.
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Like Darvish, Holland kept it humble and had to be pressed as to why he pitched so well last month.
“Just attacking the zone,” he said. “I’ve been going right after hitters. I try to make as much happen as I can.”
Holland improved to 4-0 in May, and the Rangers won all six of his starts. His ERA has dropped to 2.81, best among the starting rotation, and he has crept into the top 10 in strikeouts with 72.
That’s ace stuff, though manager Ron Washington didn’t anoint Holland.
“If Yu Darvish wasn’t on the staff right now, I guess you could say Holland would be the ace,” Washington said. “He was outstanding again tonight.”
But Holland (5-2) was trailing 1-0 after an Alcides Escobar single with one out in the third, and Kansas City threatened for more only to see Holland get Lorenzo Cain on a bouncer back to the mound and Billy Butler on an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
Innings like that have snowballed on Holland in the past, but he has shown a knack at avoiding the big inning this season.
“You’ve got to limit as much damage as you can,” Holland said. “I thought I did a good job with that, and our guys came back and did their job.”
The Rangers countered quickly and loudly with two outs in their half of the third. David Murphy singled off pitcher Wade Davis’ legs, and Lance Berkman followed with another infield hit.
Beltre drove home Murphy with a clean single up the middle, and Cruz cleared the bases with his 13th homer of the season for a 4-1 lead.
Cruz has the team lead in homers and strikeouts (56) after swinging and missing in his final two at-bats. It’s been all or nothing lately, but he hit seven homers in May.
“That’s why I keep him in the lineup,” Washington said. “One swing of the bat could make a difference. As long as he’s healthy, just ride it.”
Kansas City got an unearned run back in the sixth because of a Murphy error, but the Rangers struck back with a two-run double by Leonys Martin. Beltre capped the scoring with a liner into the left-field seats in the seventh.
He was on one knee as he swung at the Luke Hochevar offering.
“When you see Beltre recognizing a breaking ball and go down to a knee, you know he’s swinging the bat well,” Washington said.
Beltre was hitting .222 on April 30 but upped his average to .306 with his club-record fourth four-hit game of the month. He posted a .376 average in May with 10 doubles, six homers, 23 RBIs and 44 hits, which tied Ruben Sierra for the club mark in May.
“I’m doing better than I did the first month, but there’s always room for improvement,” Beltre said.
Holland also had a spectacular May. He might not be the Rangers’ ace, but he’s been pitching like one.
“I’ll let you guys decide that,” he said. “I’m doing all I can, and I’m working my butt off. I’m just going to keep doing that.”