SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland stood in front of his locker inside the Texas Rangers clubhouse on Saturday morning with a huge smile on his face while displaying the light-hearted attitude that he is known for.
It was the complete opposite of what the Rangers left-hander experienced at this time last year when he was a month removed from a freak knee injury that ended up costing him spring training and nearly all of the 2014 season.
"Last year, I was home and I was closest to my all-time low," Holland said. "I was very depressed because the injury had happened and I couldn't be here with my teammates. It was a tough time for me."
Holland made his return late in the season and was excellent in five starts, finishing 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA while allowing just six earned runs in 37 innings with 25 strikeouts. His performance not only erased any doubt about Holland returning to form following the injury, but also reinforced the notion that the left-hander was on the cusp of taking his career to the next level.
"I know it pained him to not be able to help when the team was struggling," GM Jon Daniels said. "You saw when he came back that he was motivated for a lot of reasons, including he had a chance to be a little bit of good news for us during a tough season."
There was some question about whether Holland would pitch at all last season, as the benefits of him throwing for a team out of contention were weighed against the perceived benefit of extra rest.
Given how Holland threw, the decision to let him pitch proved a wise one, not only to build confidence about his recovery, but also to show the Rangers that Holland is ready to be one o the anchors on an improved starting rotation.
"We know we have some questions," Daniels said about his team entering the 2015 season. "Hopefully he (Holland) answered one of them by showing he could pitch at such a high level.
"But what's fair is fair. He worked hard to get back, and once he was medically cleared to return there was no reason to take that away from him."
With camp underway, Holland is energized to get back on the mound after a strong finish in 2014 despite the small sample size.
"I've been working my butt off all offseason to get back out there and continue what I had at the end of last season. I didn't sleep that well last night because I was so excited to be out here and ready to go."