Between his dog tripping him down a staircase and his ditzy Harry Caray impersonation, between his pizza commercials and his ever-changing hairdo, you never really know what to expect from Derek Holland.
He’s the Texas Rangers’ class clown. He’s the team’s brightest young pitching hope.
There he is, giving a wheels-off weather forecast on Channel 8. There he is, pitching 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball in the fourth game of the 2011 World Series.
There he is, rock star headband and all, singing the Journey song Don’t Stop Believin’ at the Do It for Durrett auction.
And there he was Sunday, shutting out the Baltimore Orioles on three hits.
Maybe, therefore, what Holland — a left-hander in every way — did against the Orioles should not have come as a surprise. Over seven major league seasons, he has had jaw-dropping days like this before.
The difference Sunday was the timing.
There’s a pennant race in progress for the American League West title, in case the Houston Astros haven’t noticed. The Rangers were in dire need of a series sweep.
Holland’s four minor league rehab starts had been encouraging, but underwhelming. And his two starts after being reactivated had been promising, but not overly sharp.
Nonetheless, on Sunday afternoon, five months after his pitching arm went dead in the season’s home opener, Holland turned in a veritable gem. His 11 strikeouts included every batter in the Baltimore lineup, he walked no one, and the Orioles got only two runners as far as second base.
When asked about Holland’s command of his pitches Sunday, manager Jeff Banister said, “You’d like to have those expectations, but the reality is that with guys who have spent a significant time on the disabled list, to do what he’s doing now is exceptional, and it’s a tribute to him how focused he really is.”
Focus. If you’ve been paying attention to the Rangers’ midseason resuscitation, you know it’s been all about the focus.
After a shaky start to the season, shortstop Elvis Andrus is focused. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is focused. The new bullpen is focused.
In Holland’s case, staying focused was as simple as paying attention from the dugout over the previous two nights.
“It’s great how that works, isn’t it?” Banister said. “When you pay attention and stay focused, see what the guys do before you, you can pick up little things. There’s a lot of that in this game. Even on the bench when you’re not playing, we ask our guys to really pay attention to what’s going on.”
Holland put his two-night lesson in layman’s terms.
“It was just mixing my speeds, and working in and out,” he said.
Banister added: “More than anything else, he had great rhythm and great pace today. He pitched on both sides of the plate. He didn’t get one-sided, like he’s done in a couple of starts where he focused in on one side. Today, he had command of both.
“It was a great job by him doing that today and by paying attention.”
No one needs to remind the Rangers what having a healthy Holland and Martin Perez would do for their postseason hopes. In an injury-free world, the two would have been the Nos. 2 and 3 starters in the team’s 2015 rotation.
They might finally be that for the Rangers heading into the stretch run.