Gil LeBreton

We may have seen the last of Derek Holland

The top of the fifth inning ended Wednesday night, and pitcher Derek Holland walked slowly to the Texas Rangers dugout, having dug his team into a 5-1 hole.

He didn’t return for the sixth inning. Holland’s night — and possibly his time in a Rangers uniform — was done.

The hole he dug Wednesday just added to the crater that his Rangers career has become.

It was Holland’s third consecutive poor start and raised his September earned run average to 6.53. Opponents are batting .365 against him during the same span.

More than that, however, Holland again failed to do his job. In his 15 starts since May 1, Holland has left the game while trailing 10 times.

He signed a five-year, $28.5 million contract extension during spring training in 2012. Holland was due to make $11 million next season, but the Rangers are likely to exercise his contract’s $1.5 million buyout clause, making him a free agent.

Five years ago Holland was a 16-game winner and started four games in the postseason.

But his last three have been a disaster, missing most of 2014 after knee surgery and dealing with a shoulder strain last season.

The last two are meaningful because it means that Holland has seldom pitched well since Jeff Banister became the club’s manager. If you’re Banister, what snippet of Holland’s performances would give you the confidence to place him in your upcoming postseason rotation?

Here’s a hint: Holland won’t be. His chances may not be more than 50-50 that he even makes the club’s postseason roster.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this, of course. The more that Holland pitched over the past three, injury-shadowed seasons, the more it made his 16-5 season look like an outlier.

“Overall it’s a frustrating thing,” Holland said after the 5-4 defeat. “I’ve got to keep plugging away.

“I’m going to get through this. It was just one of those starts where there were more negative things going on. I’m going to fix that and just keep plugging away.”

Except he may not get the chance. Holland’s spot in the rotation will come up only once in the season’s remaining nine games, and it’s possible that Banister will give that start to rookie Yohander Mendez.

At this point of his disappointing season, Holland may only be fighting for a spot as long reliever or mop-up man on the postseason squad.

“I’m definitely frustrated,” he said. “There’s no way I can say I’m not. It’s a grind. But I’ve got to keep plugging away.

“I’m not going to get too caught up in this. I’ve got to get ready for the next — whatever I’m doing — start or whatever it is. The main thing is to just keep plugging. I’m not going to keep down. I’ve got to stay strong and just keep grinding.”

If the club chooses to exercise the buyout clause in Holland’s contract, the question remains: Who becomes the Rangers’ No. 5 starter in 2017?

A.J. Griffin has done all the club has asked of him this season, though he hasn’t seized a starter’s role by acclamation. Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez likely will get another shot.

The club could trade for a starter. Jurickson Profar might entice a potential trade partner.

Or the Rangers’ fifth starter, whoever he is, could be pitching this season in Cuba.

Whatever, if Wednesday was Derek Holland’s last appearance in a Rangers uniform, it was a lonely farewell.

He left his team in a four-run hole — and his future here in a deeper chasm.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram