Mac Engel

Holland gives Texas Rangers playoff rotation

Derek Holland showed command and grit while striking out six and walking none Wednesday. “I feel like I’m back,” he said.
Derek Holland showed command and grit while striking out six and walking none Wednesday. “I feel like I’m back,” he said. Star-Telegram

Short of winning a World Series, nothing Derek Holland does for the rest of the season will trump what he did Wednesday: He made it rain.

In the second inning of Holland’s second start of the season, real water fell from the sky. The more than 5,000 fans in attendance at The Ballpark enjoyed the wet stuff almost as much as the fact that the Texas Rangers rotation now genuinely looks playoff caliber.

The team that broke for Arlington out of Surprise and spring training in late March looks almost nothing like the team today other than the jerseys. The Rangers are not a World Series team by any stretch, but the return of Holland gives them a playoff rotation.

“I feel like I’m back,” he said after the Rangers’ 7-2 win over the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. “I feel like I’m good to go.”

Along with the acquisition of Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies, hearing those words from Holland is akin to trading for another top left-handed starter.

Against the Seattle Mariners, Holland didn’t look like a guy who had not pitched since the first week of April, when he suffered a strain in his left shoulder during the team’s home opener. He looked more like that guy last September that no one could touch.

“What he did last September was eye-popping,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said after Wednesday’s game. “What he did today was like what he did last September.”

It’s been so long we forget but, last September, Holland came back from a nasty knee injury to start six games where he posted a 1.46 ERA in 37 innings. This is how bad last year was — Derek Holland’s September was the best thing about the entire season.

Against the Mariners, he allowed eight hits in 6 1/3 innings with no walks and six strikeouts. This should only get better.

“The swing and miss is pretty impressive for a guy that has not pitched at this level for quite a while,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.

Holland’s victory was also made possible thanks largely to center fielder Delino DeShields, who made a snow-cone catch on the warning track in center field to rob Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz of extra bases in the top of the fourth inning.

In the seventh, reliever Keone Kela entered the game in relief of Holland with a runner at first. DeShields threw Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero out at home plate to end the inning and preserve a one-run lead.

(Note to bullpen: Quit trying to blow leads.)

Holland told me after the game he felt strong enough that he could have remained in the game; he finished with 93 pitches. When Banister and Maddux think he’s ready, that figure should top out at 115-ish.

The only thing Maddux said he thought that Holland needed to improve was his command.

“I had the feeling that, going into my first two starts, there would be a pitch count,” Holland said. “Strength-wise, I was there. I was throwing as hard as I was at the end of the game as I was at the start of the game.”

For a pitcher who previously routinely inflated his pitch count because he flirted with rather than attacked the strike zone, Wednesday was just more proof that that Derek Holland is gone. The new guy gets it, and has the location to do it.

If Holland is the guy he was in September 2014 and again Wednesday, the Rangers can reach the playoffs. Once his location and endurance align, the Rangers can be a playoff team in the mediocre American League West. A rotation with Holland, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis is playoff legit.

What they do should they get there is another matter, but there is enough to reach that one-game wild card.

Holland may be even better than Hamels this season. Granted, Holland can do nothing about this team’s offense that can’t decide if it wants to be average or bad, or an erratic bullpen, but he has stopper stuff.

Holland brought that stopper stuff back to the team, as well as some much-desired rain.

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

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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