Rangers’ Derek Holland turning in best season

If someone is in the mood to really get Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington going, bring up the quality-start statistic, then sit back and enjoy.

The quality start, as defined by longtime baseball writer John Lowe, is six innings pitched with no more than three earned runs allowed. A pitcher can be losing and still qualify for a quality start.

“They call that quality?” Washington said Friday. “Come on, man.”

The manager’s daily media session evolved into a rather one-sided discussion on the QS after he was asked about the season left-hander Derek Holland is having.

Holland had thrown 14 consecutive games of at least six innings, with 11 of them quality starts but half of them coming in games the Rangers lost before he lasted only 4 2/3 innings in a loss Monday. He takes the mound again Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

But don’t take Washington’s opinion as a knock on Holland. He’s good with Holland.

Washington and the Rangers are so good with him that their rotation is set the rest of the way for either Holland or Yu Darvish to start the last game of the season or the first of the postseason.

That sounds like a quality pitcher more so than 2011, when Holland won 16 games.

“Derek has been doing extremely well, don’t get me wrong,” Washington said. “Yes, he is a better pitcher because he’s got more experience. He has a better idea of what he’s doing out there.”

Holland has been striving for consistency after previous seasons marked by the highs of brilliant starts and the lows of outings in which he couldn’t make it out of the third inning.

He has a team-high 20 quality starts, sixth most in the American League, and his 3.07 ERA is second-best by an American League left-hander. At 184 2/3 innings, he should sail past his career-high of 198 in his 16-5 campaign two years ago.

Holland also has toiled without much run support. The Rangers have backed him with 4.43 runs per start, the lowest on the team by a tick (4.44) over Darvish, and as a result he will enter his 29th start Saturday night with only nine wins.

“I think it’s a big year,” Holland said. “It’s been consistent and showed people that I can be a consistent pitcher. I’ve been able to handle everything that’s gone on out there and been able to control most of the things if something did go wrong.”

And the streak of 14 straight starts of six innings pitched?

“It’s huge,” Holland said. “It’s come down to can I be consistent. I think I’ve shown that.”

His past three starts haven’t seen him at his best, beginning when his life flashed before his eyes as a Jason Castro liner came screaming back at him to open the seventh inning Aug. 21 against Houston. Holland walked the next two batters and left without getting an out, and two of his runners scored.

He walked three in that game, four Aug. 27 at Seattle and five Monday at Oakland in a 4-2 loss.

“With Derek, it’s just going out there and commanding his fastball,” Washington said. “That’s what hasn’t been there his last few times out.”

Holland knows he needs to do more, like fulfilling Washington’s desire to go beyond the quality start. If a team hands Holland a lead, he needs to keep it. If a team is sitting on his off-speed pitches, he needs to find a way to command his fastball.

Holland believes he has found the solution for a mechanical flaw that led to his wild times. It’s nothing that would be noticeable, but if he’s going good, it will be the result of slowing down his delivery.

Now is the time to get everything in order. He will start at least four more games with the Rangers in the thick of a playoff race. They entered Friday leading the A’s by a half-game in the AL West.

He is scheduled to face Oakland in the opener of a three-game series next weekend.

“Every game is the same to me,” Holland said. “The game stays the same. There’s more crowd and I guess more meaning to it, but I’m still going to do the same things whether we were playing the first game of the season or the very last.”

He could very well start Game 162. That sounds like a quality pitcher.

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