Sunday morning’s announcement that Derek Holland wouldn’t pitch in the Texas Rangers’ intrasquad game should not be considered as the first here-we-go-again moment of spring training.
At least that’s what the principals involved said. Just some “normal spring soreness” in his left shoulder.
Holland and general manager Jon Daniels hadn’t changed their tune 24 hours later.
“Trust me, I feel very good,” Holland said. “I’m fine.”
Holland threw on a rainy Monday and could be throwing a bullpen session later in the week and pitching in a Catcus League game by the weekend or early next week. He wanted to be pitching Sunday in the intrasquad game, but his pleas failed and he graciously accepted defeat.
He likely would have bowed out the same way in previous springs, so it’s not like he has suddenly become a wise veteran. But Holland is a veteran, in his seventh camp, and he has shed some of the free spirit that has been revealed in his commercials and on his Twitter feed.
Make no mistake that Holland still likes to cut it up, but his lost year in 2014 has reignited his passion for baseball and revealed a character trait that many don’t see. Maturity.
“The maturity and appreciation for the game has been reinvented for him,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said.
“I think it’s a reborn love of the game. You face adversity in the game, it makes you stronger. I think that’s what happened to Derek. It made his beliefs stronger, his work ethic stronger, and he appreciates every day more.”
That should serve Holland and the Rangers well in 2015 as he attempts to shut down the roller coaster of inconsistencies that has kept him from becoming an elite pitcher.
Holland impressed last season in September, the only month he pitched, not just with his numbers (2-0, 1.46 ERA, 37 innings) but also how he got his outs. The left-hander wiggled out of trouble when it found him by knowing which batters he wanted to attack and which ones to play it safe.
Holland didn’t hurt himself, either, with only five walks. He also had a fresh arm, a good fastball and effective off-speed pitches that led to a .248 opponents batting average.
The roller coaster never took a downward turn.
“The past two years it’s been more consistent, maybe not where I want it but at least it’s better than where it was in the past,” Holland said. “I think I’ve just matured. I’ve got more experience, and I’ve just adjusted from there.
“I made a statement in September, but now it’s a whole new year. No roller coasters this year. In my eyes it’s over. I feel very confident and very comfortable with where I am. There’s going to be some noise made this year.”
That confident statement was made as Holland tries to curb his energy level this spring. It’s off the charts, and he realizes it.
“I’ve simmered down some,” he said.
The energy comes not just as a result of him dancing in September, but also from a high-octane off-season workout program and the need to make up for lost time.
Holland tried to motivate his teammates in the gym and tried to unite the pitching staff on the common goal of doing whatever it takes to win in 2015. When manager Jeff Banister asked the Rangers’ four known rotation members to be leaders of the pitching staff, Holland was the first to speak up and tell the manager that they were way ahead of him.
Maybe more than anything else, though, Holland realized how much he missed playing baseball as he watched the games click away last season. The result has been more maturity, and that should result in a smoother 2015 ride for Holland.
“I see a mature young man,” Maddux said. “Mentally, you’re more consistent with maturity, and you have the know-how of how to get through your bad days and turn them into good ones. The mark of a good pitcher is not how good you are on your good days but how good you are on your bad days.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760