Holland shows confidence in slider

SAN JOSE, CA - Derek Holland suffered his first loss of the season on Thursday evening, but he still allowed just three runs while striking out 10 batters in six innings. Lone Star Dugout was on hand for the start and spoke with the hard-throwing lefty afterwards.

Derek Holland posted a quality start against one of the California League's best teams on Thursday evening, but most people – including Holland himself – considered the effort to be mildly disappointing.

That is a testament to how far Holland has progressed over the last year.

The left-hander went six innings in Thursday's start, giving up three runs on four hits. He walked one and struck out 10 batters. Despite the solid outing, Holland suffered his first loss of the season in 20 starts between Single-A Clinton and High-A Bakersfield.

"I feel alright," said Holland when asked about his start. "It was just a couple of pitches, some mistakes. [The pitches] got away from me and they capitalized on it. That's just something I've got to adjust to – locate a little better next time and try not to let up on my changeup like I did."

Holland served up a solo home run to Giants catcher Dayton Buller in the fourth inning. His next pitch registered at 97 mph on the stadium's radar gun. Holland insists that he wasn't reaching back for extra velocity.

"That's what everybody is asking me," said Holland. "I just threw it and that's how it came out I guess. I didn't do anything different than I usually would."

Although Holland never reached 97 mph again, his velocity was solid all night. The Ohio native worked between 91-96 mph and averaged 92-93. He threw six fastballs between 94 and 95 mph in the first inning.

Many pitchers struggle with their control for a period after experiencing a seemingly sudden increase in velocity. That has not been the case with Holland, who has issued just 32 walks in 115.2 innings this season.

"Nothing has changed," replied the left-hander. "Knock on wood. I don't want to screw that up. But the main thing I've really learned to focus with is staying on my back leg. The more I stay on that, the more everything stays in line. It helps out."

Holland recorded 55 strikeouts in 65 innings over his first 12 starts of the season. In his last eight starts, he has fanned 60 in 48.2 frames. A large factor in that spike has been the development of Holland's 76-80 mph slider, which is beginning to look like a plus pitch. He fanned the left-handed and .362-hitting Brad Boyer on a beautiful 80 mph slider that began over the plate and broke out of the zone in the first inning.

"[My slider] has improved from the very beginning," he said. "It's starting to become my strongest pitch now. I don't want to get away from my changeup, so I've got to get back to that, but it has improved a lot."

The 21-year-old showed a great deal of confidence in his slider by using it in multiple tight situations and beginning a few at-bats with the pitch. Holland says those are two things he wasn't able to do with his breaking ball last season.

"Definitely not, especially with the way I was throwing it" said Holland when asked if he relied on his slider so much in 2007. "It wouldn't have happened. The [mechanical] change from last year has been helping me and it is starting to show big time."

But that doesn't mean Holland isn't being aggressive with his fastball. He threw first-pitch fastballs [generally ranging between 92-95 mph] to each of the first 10 batters he faced. It was after the start of the third inning – when he got into his first jam of the night – that Holland began utilizing his slider and changeup early in the count.

Predominantly a fastball-changeup pitcher at Wallace State College, Holland still throws a solid changeup that sits around the 81-85 mph range. But thanks to the development of his slider, Holland isn't forced to flash the change as often anymore.

Because the Cal League has so many hitter-friendly environments, Holland says Bakersfield pitching coach Dave Chavarria has emphasized working down in the zone to his entire pitching staff.

"The main thing [Chavarria] helps me focus with is keeping the ball down," he said. "It's the big thing he really enforces. He has talked to me about location on certain pitches, what to do, and how to pitch to certain people."

Holland also realizes that a pitcher still needs to hit other locations in order to keep the hitter off-balance.

"Things that I learn is that you try and mess with the batter's eye level," Holland said. "You try to go up, in, or out. Any direction you can. You want to do anything to mess with the hitters. Staying down is the most important, but you also want to change eye level."

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