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Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Rangers' Holland looks to tame Yanks' bats

The Texas Rangers visit the New York Yankees on Wednesday night (ESPN, 7 ET) with one of the best offenses in the league. Since Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton returned from the disabled list May 23, the Rangers have increased their batting average and slugging percentage and are scoring two more runs per game.

Part of their success has been their ability to put the ball in play -- Rangers hitters are averaging 5.9 at-bats per strikeout, the best rate in the American League. However, they’ve struggled offensively on the road this season, ranking no better than ninth in the AL in the categories in the chart to the right.

The Rangers’ starting rotation has been strong this season, ranking in the top four of the American League in wins, ERA and opponents’ batting average. It has eight shutouts already this season, equaling its total from all last season.

One key for the rotation -- something that’s been a priority for Rangers president Nolan Ryan -- is that the starters are going deep into games and showing endurance. They have five complete games, tied for most in the AL, and have thrown more than 100 pitches per game.

The bullpen hasn’t cooperated this season -- the Rangers rank 10th in bullpen ERA, and only the Angels have blown more saves this season. The relief corps was exposed against the Yankees’ potent offense in a 12-4 loss Tuesday.

The Bronx Bombers are in the top two in the American League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, walks and runs scored. The Yankees got to starter Alexi Ogando early, scoring six runs and knocking him out of the game in the second inning, then torched the bullpen for six more.

Ivan Nova takes the mound for the Yankees on Wednesday; he’s struggled to throw strikes (sixth-lowest strike percentage among AL starters) and miss bats (fifth-lowest miss percentage among AL starters).

He has shown improvement each month this season by keeping the ball on the ground. Nova’s ground-ball percentage of 55 percent is fifth-highest among AL starters.

Derek Holland -- who has been hot lately as well -- will start for the Rangers. He has a 3.60 ERA in his past six starts, a run and a half lower than his first seven starts this season. He’s improved by throwing his fastball more (up to 68 percent of his pitches from 58 percent) and cutting his walks down (2.7 BB/9 IP versus 3.7 BB/9 IP).

Holland has looked like a different pitcher on the road this season, but he did allow eight hits and five earned runs in a loss at Yankee Stadium in April. He’ll have to be wary of Mark Teixeira; the Yankees’ first baseman is 6-for-12 with two home runs and six RBIs against Holland in his career.

-- Katie Sharp contributed