It may seem odd to say that a No. 3 starter holds the key to the rotation, but how Holland performs this season could determine the strength of the staff from top to bottom.
Derek Holland struggled with the home run ball last season but remains a key to the rotation.
Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison were All-Star pitchers in 2012. Darvish pitched like an ace down the stretch. Harrison was the Rangers' most consistent pitcher and won 18 games. His performance earned him a contract extension (five-year, $55 million deal).
Holland’s performance in the second half of 2011, including in Game 4 of the World Series (nearly a complete-game shutout when the Rangers needed it most), earned him an extension before 2012. That was a five-year, $28.5 million deal with two club options before the 2012 season began. And then he struggled mightily. Holland was 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA in 29 games (27 starts) in 175 1/3 innings pitched last season. He dealt with arm fatigue and never really got into a groove. Rather than take another step forward after a successful finish to the 2011 season, Holland went the other way.
This is a big spring for him. He’s competing in the World Baseball Classic, getting a chance to get the adrenaline going early and put him in a competitive mood from the get-go. He spoke with Hall of Famer and Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan this offseason and is focused on attacking hitters and finding a consistent location.
"He said I’ve got to stay focused out there and not do too much to over-think things," Holland said in December. "Just go out there and grind it out. He agreed with me on working on location, which is something I asked him about. The only time I got beat was missing spots. And if I got beat, too, it would be a home run. I gave up too many. It’s not that I was trying to pitch like I did in the minor leagues where I could blow a fastball by you anywhere and not have to worry about location, it was that I missed spots."
Holland knows he must step up in 2013. He's signed up as a part of the core of this team and is one of four starters who are under club control for the long haul. He's said that he plans to use Harrison as a blueprint. Not a bad idea. Harrison has put together two consistent seasons by decreasing his walks and staying aggressive, but he's also getting stronger mentally.
Holland wants to do the same. He's one of the hardest workers on the team, so it won't be for lack of trying. The other area of focus: cutting down on home runs. Holland allowed 32 homers in his 175 1/3 innings. That was 10 more than he allowed in 198 innings in 2011.
Everyone knows what Holland is capable of doing after seeing it in the back half of 2011. Now he needs to show it.