Mac Engel

Derek Holland gets the job he wants: Rangers ace

The Rangers desperately need Derek Holland, center, to truly be the ace he believes he can be.
The Rangers desperately need Derek Holland, center, to truly be the ace he believes he can be. Star-Telegram

Now that Yu Darvish is basically lost for the next year-plus, that leaves Derek Holland as the Texas Rangers’ unquestioned staff ace.

Such a reality likely makes a great many of you queasy. Or maybe you are one of the believers.

You believe because you have seen with your own eyes that it’s there. Game 4 of the 2011 World Series when he threw 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the St. Louis Cardinals is hard to forget.

“That’s one game,” Holland said. “I want to be known for more than just one game.”

This is like the restaurant that has on its front door Zagat’s top-rating — from 1987. Holland’s one game tasted great, but it was also in 2011.

Holland, for one, is sick of the end-of-the-season talk that he and his teammates have heard since the bad Yu announcement.

Holland wanted to be “that guy” before the Yu news, and nothing has changed. He has wanted this, so there truly is no time like the present to answer the question: Is he is a 1, 2 or 3. He is 28, and the opportunity is completely his to be a stud, a stopper and an All-Star.

“My personal goal?” he said. “I want to be the ace of the staff.”

He is now, by default. If this team has any chance to be competitive, Holland has to be what everybody around this franchise wants, and now desperately needs.

There is no more confounding pro jock in FW/d than Derek Holland. He can go through stretches of dominance, and then follow with multiple outings where he can’t find the strike zone.

The ability is there. The mechanics are relaxed and reminiscent of a Tom Glavine or Mark Mulder — low stress. The stuff of an ace is in there. There is a 20-game winner in Derek Holland.

“When Derek started off, he was very youthful and he has grown each year,” Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “In the five starts he made last year, he was really good. That is the Derek everybody projected. It’s a matter of him maturing as a person and a player.

“The talent has always been there. He has a high ceiling.”

Holland actually may have been a high point of the lost 2014 season. His year was essentially wiped out when tripped over his dog last off-season and required microfracture surgery on his knee.

He returned late in the season to make five starts, going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in 37 innings.

We have seen this before. We have never seen it over 35 starts.

This is not about his personality, either. Holland’s detractors insist his performance is correlated to his sense of humor. That he is a screwball who does not take his job seriously. Don’t buy that.

There are plenty of 90-degree angle pitchers who are erratic, too. Holland has always been more of a 45-degree angle guy...which perhaps is why it’s his jersey number.

The question about Holland is his being able to focus every fifth day. Sounds easy, yet not many guys can do it.

“I wish people could see what I do behind the scenes,” said Holland, who is scheduled to make his spring training debut Saturday. He has had some soreness with his shoulder, so the Rangers are being cautious. “I’m sorry — I have a personality and I want to have fun.

“Trust me, if you could see what I do, I bust my [butt]. I study. I prepare. I do all of my homework. You guys just see the little bits when I am having fun.”

Believe him.

What we have here is a guy who may pitch for another 10 to 12 big-league seasons. It’s a matter of what level does he reach in those years.

“Last year, I wanted to prove to fans, teammates and everybody that, yeah, it may have been a [bad] season, but there is a bright light,” Holland said in reference to his performance. “I wanted to prove to everybody that they can count on me. That there is still next season to look forward to.”

Next season is here, and the fragile optimism surrounding this team is even more unstable with the Yu news. There is no way to change Yu’s reality, but the impact will be lessened if Holland is the ace he believes he can be.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on The Fan 105.3.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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