ARLINGTON, Texas – The difference in Derek Holland this season could be seen in the third inning Friday night.
After cruising through the first two innings, Holland, the Rangers’ lefty, got into a jam in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals.
A leadoff double was followed by an infield single. Then another single plated a run.
Holland had runners at second and third with just one out, the point at which the old version of himself might have allowed the Royals’ rally to blossom.
Instead, the new Holland induced a grounder back to himself for the second out. Then he served up another ground ball that turned into the third out on runner’s interference.
Holland didn’t give up another run until the sixth inning and claimed his fourth win of the month in a 7-2 victory. The Rangers have won all six of Holland’s starts in the month.
“The thing is, you’ve got to control as much damage as you can,” Holland said. “They had some infield hits, and you’ve got to tip your hat to them…At the same time, my job is to limit the damage and I thought I did a good job of that.”
Holland, now 5-2, allowed eight hits over a full seven innings. Only one of those hits went for extra bases: the leadoff double by Adam Moore in the third.
“In the past, when one of those innings was getting away, it would continue to snowball,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “But he learned now how to shut it down. That’s what he’s been doing so far this year and that’s why he’s having the success he’s having.”
While Holland limited the Royals to mostly singles, he also limited damage with eight strikeouts. That continued a trend by Holland, posted a career high 44 strikeouts in May.
That strikeout total is the second-most by a Rangers lefthander in any month, topped only by Cliff Lee’s 47 strikeouts in August of 2010.
Holland credited his successful May to attacking the strike zone, but he’s found a way to do it without leaving himself vulnerable.
“Once again, he stayed out of the fat part of the plate,” Washington said. “And off the fat part of the bat for the most part tonight.”
Holland benefitted from double plays by his defense in the fifth and sixth to keep the Royals from getting a big inning. Giving up just one walk also helped Holland thrive.
“I’ve been going right after the hitters,” Holland said. “My big pet peeve is not to walk people.” Holland was visibly peeved at the end of his last outing in Seattle. Although the Rangers won, 5-2, Holland couldn’t get a third out so he could pitch a complete seven innings.
On Friday, Holland started the seventh with two strikeouts, but then gave up a single to No. 9 hitter Chris Getz.
Getz stole second to get into scoring position for leadoff hitter Alex Gordon, but this time Holland got the strikeout he needed – on his 104th pitch – to finish the seventh.
“My goal is to be the starter and also close,” Holland said. “I want to go out there and go as long as I can.”
Holland was able to go longer this time by avoiding the snowball effect.
“It’s going to happen, you’re going to give up hits,” Holland said. “You can’t sit and dwell on it. If you do, it’s going to eat you up.”
This time, it was Holland who feasted on the hitters.