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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Reax: Derek Holland makes strong case

By Richard Durrett

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland knows it's a tight competition for the final rotation spots on the Rangers and time is ticking in terms of the club making a decision. So Holland made sure he put himself squarely in the mix with his best outing of the spring on Wednesday.

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Rangers pitcher Derek Holland joins Ben and Skin to talk about his last Cactus League outing and unveil his Harry Caray impersonation.

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"I'm trying to get that starting rotation spot, so I needed to make a statement," Holland said. "I needed to show them that I belong in that rotation. That's my main focus. I don't want anything else. I belong in that rotation."

Against an A's lineup that featured four regulars (and maybe a fifth if Ryan Sweeney ends up in the outfield), Holland utilized all of his pitches. His fastball was regularly at 93 mph and had good location. His slider was effective, resulting in some swings and misses and ground balls, and he showed he wasn't afraid to throw his changeup either. Holland threw 37 pitches and 30 of them were strikes. He threw a first-pitch strike to nine of the 10 batters he faced and allowed just two hits in three scoreless innings.

"He threw all his pitches for strikes," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He looked like a pitcher out there. He had a good plan, but lots of firepower to back it up.

Last year at this time a knee injury ended Holland's hopes of starting the season in the rotation. He ended up making 10 starts and finished the season in the bullpen. But he said what was missing was the changeup. When he threw it, it was up in the strike zone, so he lost confidence and didn't throw it as much. When Holland went to the pen, he didn't need the pitch as much.

This offseason, he's focused on getting that pitch back. He threw to live hitters a few days ago and had that changeup working well.

"I told him after hitting against him that it was outstanding," Chad Tracy said. "It was tough to pick up. If he can throw it like that, it's going to be dangerous."

He threw one at 75 mph to Conor Jackson on the first pitch and the A's first baseman took a swing at it and missed it. Holland said he threw four or five more and was pleased that the pitch was down in the zone.

Maddux sees a pitcher with what he called a "cleaner" delivery and one that is more consistent than Holland had last year.

Holland attributes his success this spring to more than just the offseason work and the tweaks in mechanics.

"The guys are letting me be me," Holland said. "I've having more fun. We goof off and do our thing. I'm wearing my T-shirts and just being myself."

The T-shirts Holland refers to are humorous ones, sometimes from TV shows like Seinfeld or The Office, that he wears around the clubhouse. You can read all about Holland's affinity for the crazy shirts here.

But the bottom line is that Holland is relaxed and focused on making the rotation. He made the statement he wanted to on Wednesday.

Other game notes:

* RHP Neftali Feliz pitched three innings -- the sixth through the eighth -- and unveiled some new tricks. He had what manager Ron Washington terms a "short slider" that can get out of the zone and force some swings. Feliz allowed a couple of hits in his final inning and appeared to get very fired up. He struck out the next two batters and snatched the ball back from the catcher as he marched to the dugout. He changed speeds well and move the ball around the zone. He did have two walks to go along with four strikeouts. More on Feliz's arsenal tomorrow morning here on the blog.

* RHP Darren O'Day gave up a home run to David DeJesus to lead off the fourth. He gave up two more hits before getting out of the inning with no more damage done. LHP Arthur Rhodes gave up a homer to Landon Powell on the first pitch he threw, but had two strikeouts to the next four batters to get out of the inning. "They both just left some balls up and that's what happens," Washington said.

* Michael Young continues to hit. And he's fun to watch with two strikes. He was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two more RBIs on Wednesday. With the count 0-2 against Dallas Braden in the first, Young laced a double down the right-field line. His single in the fifth also came with two strikes. Young played first on Wednesday for the second time in a Cactus League game as he continues to play all the infield positions in preparation for the season.

* Mike Napoli was 2-for-4 on Wednesday and is hitting .389 this spring. "I've been able to get him in a few games in a row and he's finding that rhythm," Washington said. "He can hit." Napoli had a homer, his second of the spring.

* OF Josh Hamilton was 1-for-3 as he tries to find some consistency. He's batting .227 this spring.

* SS Elvis Andrus, who has struggled at the plate, was 2-for-4 with a run scored.