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For Holland, happiness is pitching, T-shirts

3/4/2011

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland was pretty pleased with his spring debut Thursday against the Chicago Cubs, just as the Texas Rangers' young lefty has been pleased with his attitude, his mindset and life in general heading into what could be his breakthrough season.

His happiness, or perhaps a newfound self-comfort level, is expressed by his t-shirts. Yes, his t-shirts. There's definitely a little goof-ball in Holland, who is allowing his personality to shine through this spring, which is seemingly a good thing as he strives for a focused, but relaxed approach to the season.

Holland collects t-shirts with silly or off-beat sayings and/or pictures that he finds in stores, online or wherever.

For example, his latest acquisition was an impluse buy while picking up groceries at the Suprise Wal-Mart. The gray t-shirt has a drawing of a yellow chick being pulled backward by a cartoon magnet: "Chick magnet," Holland explained.

He can reach into his locker and pull out a number of these things. One has the face of "Seinfeld" character George Costanza in the middle of the shirt with the quote, "Nobody's sicker than me. Nobody," around it. Another shirt reads: "Literally too stupid to insult."

Another has the dad character Peter Griffin from "Family Guy" that shows Peter wearing a t-shirt that reads: "No Fat Chicks."

Yet another bears the face of Chuck Norris and reads: "Breakfast of Champions."

"I’ve just always had them and when I went to workout one time in Dallas, [Ian] Kinsler was there and I put on a goofy shirt and he said, 'What is wrong with you, man?'' Holland said. "The shirts just kind of took off from there."

But, he never really wore them around the clubhouse until this spring when he dons a new one seemingly everyday. For a high-strung hopeful like Holland, they seem to be somewhat therapeutic.

"I’m just being myself, have fun, that’s the main thing. I want to go out relax and have fun," Holland said. "This is the most fun I’ve had so far. It’s kept me relaxed, too. That’s another thing, just being able to goof off and wear these shirts and do whatever."

Ultimately, Holland's baseball fun will come on the mound. In his short major-league career, he's had shining moments and awful ones, too, right through the World Series when he came in on relief and couldn't throw a strike to save his life. Even last year he was learning ways to better harnass his anger and frustrations, and he battled back from that moment to have a good one on baseball's biggest stage.

He's tried to build off of that this season. And in Thursday's two-inning outing in which he gave up one run on three hits, he thinks he did that. Two of the Cubs' ground-ball hits Holland attributed to the notoriously hard fields here in Arizona. Otherwise, he was pleased with the tenchnical side of his day.

"I felt great about it. My location was good, my offspeed pitches were really good," Holland said. "I'm going to keep bringing the same mentality."

After pitching 138.1 innings in 2009, including 21 starts out of 33 appearances, many thought Holland's breakthrough would come last season. But, he appeared in just 14 games for the Rangers, 10 starts, throwing 57.1 innings, while racking up 62.2 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Now the expectations have transferred to 2011.

"We have pretty high hopes of Derek," manager Ron Washington said. "He’s certainly come into this spring and handled himself as a professional, going about his business, doing everything he can to up his game. Just like every other starting pitcher, he’s going to get an opportunity to see if he can crack this starting rotation...We always thought he could, but what we think sometimes doesn’t matter. It’s got to be what the player thinks of himself."

At this moment, Holland thinks he's starting material for a rotation that is unsettled beyond C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.

"As far as I see it, my head is focused on getting that starting spot," Holland said. "I’m not worried about anything else. I want to be a starter and that’s what I’m shooting for."