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Monday, October 10, 2011
Manager's visit didn't flip Derek Holland

By Jeff Caplan

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers manager Ron Washington has made several quick-twitch and colorfully worded visits to Derek Holland over the last two seasons.

Ron Washington
A second-inning visit to the mound by Ron Washington couldn't shake Derek Holland out of his funk.
So when Washington hopped out of the dugout in the second inning with Holland having just walked his second batter of the inning and now behind Austin Jackson, 1-0, the expletives surely running through Washington's mind seemed almost audible.

Where pitching coach Mike Maddux might pay a calming, hand-to-shoulder visit to any other pitcher, Washington handles mound business with the just-turned 25-year-old. Holland has not been shy in detailing some of Washington's pep talks either. In late July when Holland was similarly struggling in the second inning at Toronto, he described Washington's visit like this: "He ripped me a new one. That's the best way to put it."

It wasn't the first time, but this visit from Washington was different. Holland was unable to locate a fastball below the letters and faced early danger in his second consecutive postseason start, a crucial Game 2 against a tough Detroit Tigers lineup.

"It wasn't one of his explosions," Holland said. "He was trying to keep me relaxed. He knew I was working too fast."

Washington indeed tried to settle the pitcher he described Saturday as a budding thoroughbred that for now remains an unbridled pony, with a gentler touch.

But on this October afternoon, Holland's adrenaline had wrapped him up and wasn't letting go. He walked Jackson to load the bases but still escaped the inning unscathed, just as he did a messy first. His lack of command would catch up with him in the third inning when Tigers outfielder Ryan Rayburn took him deep for a three-run homer and a 3-2 Tigers lead.

Holland pitched to two more batters before Washington was back on the mound, this time with the hook. After dancing in and out of trouble in lasting just five innings in Game 2 of the ALDS, Holland was finished in this one after 2 2/3 innings and having allowed three runs on four hits and four walks, plus hitting Victor Martinez on the foot with a 78 mph curveball in the dirt.

"I'm very frustrated with the how I performed. I didn't execute my pitches; couldn't get my fastball down, that was a big thing," Holland said. "I mean, if you can't throw your fastball you're not going to stay in there very long. I tried to do as much as I can, but unfortunately it didn't work out."

In all honesty, he knows he was fortunate not be exiting down a half-dozen.

He knows he was even more fortunate that Scott Feldman was brilliant in long relief, along with four other steady bullpen hands who locked things down so Nelson Cruz could homer twice, once in the seventh to tie and then again to win it with a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th for the dramatic 7-3 win.

By the time Game 2 was over, Holland had been gone for so long that he could have flown to Detroit and had dinner with Game 3 starter Colby Lewis. Instead he sucked it up in the dugout and cheered for his teammates.

His offense staked him to a 2-0 lead after one inning, but he couldn't hold it and forced yet another night of heavy bullpen work in the first of possibly four consecutive games. Wilson, the Game 1 starter, was shaky early and couldn't escape the rain-delayed fifth inning.

"I felt real good [in warmups]. I didn't really notice there were any troubles with my fastball," Holland said. "It's one of those things that just came up. I was trying to correct myself. I talked to C.J. [Wilson] in between innings, we were communicating, but I just couldn't get it to go back down."

The series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Tuesday night. If a Game 6 is necessary, Holland will be scheduled to start it and he'll need to figure out his fastball in a hurry.

He knows Washington's next visit to the mound probably won't be as cordial.