Holland cruises behind strong command

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Derek Holland breezed through Tuesday's start against Round Rock, tossing 7.2 scoreless innings on 98 pitches. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the southpaw after he earned the victory.

When Spring Training broke last season, Derek Holland probably wasn't expecting to spend almost the entire season in the big leagues. But that's exactly what happened.

Holland earned a mid-April call-up after making just one start at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and he pitched the remainder of the season with the Texas Rangers, logging 138.1 innings over 33 appearances [21 starts].

Overall, the left-hander showed flashes of dominance and a lot of positive signs despite an 8-12 record and a 6.12 earned-run average.

Holland was competing for an opening day rotation spot this spring when a knee injury slowed his development and caused him to fall behind schedule. The hurler also had his struggles in big league Spring Training games, allowing 11 runs on 18 hits in 12.2 innings, striking out just three.

The Rangers sent Holland to Triple-A Oklahoma City out of camp, and they are having him focus on developing his slider and commanding his fastball.

On Tuesday, Holland was outstanding in both areas.

The 23-year-old worked 7.2 scoreless innings against the Round Rock Express, allowing just four singles. He walked one and struck out three.

Holland was in control throughout the game–he established his 91-94 mph fastball [sitting at 92] early, and he consistently pounded the bottom-half of the zone with it. He also did a nice job of working both corners and setting hitters up early in the count.

While the Ohio native has the ability to touch 97 mph with his fastball–and he has sat at 93-95 mph in the past–he is probably most effective at the 91-94 range, where he can command the ball down more easily.

After yielding a bunt single followed by a single to center in the third, Holland settled down to retire 15 consecutive hitters. Only twice in that span did Round Rock hitters come close to putting the barrel on the ball.

When Holland was coming up through the system two years ago, he threw a frisbee-like slider in the upper-70s, sometimes touching the low-80s. That slider appears to be no more. As Holland explains in more detail below, he is now throwing a harder mid-80s slider with a bit sharper bite. The pitch should do a much better job of complementing his power fastball.

Holland wasn't getting a ton of swings-and-misses with any of his pitches on Tuesday, but he worked effectively and often kept hitters off-balance. That was also the case with his slider. He threw the pitch for a strike nine of the 11 times he threw it, getting one strikeout, two groundouts and one flyout.

The Rangers don't currently have room for Holland in their starting rotation, but if he continues showing progress with his fastball command and secondary stuff, it might not be long before he forces his way back into the big leagues.

Jason Cole: You threw 7.2 scoreless innings in your outing tonight. What were your overall thoughts?

Derek Holland: I felt real good. I attacked the zone and had command of all four pitches. The main thing was that me and Frosty were on the same page, and the defense was right there behind me, making all the plays.

Cole: Given the fact that this is early in the season and you threw more pitches than you have in previous outings, were you starting to tire towards the end?

Holland: No, I was fine. I felt real good. It was just a couple pitches I didn't get and it took me out of the game. Those were the main things. I went right after them–I wasn't fatigued at all.

Cole: You had the injury that set you back during Spring Training. What exactly was it again?

Holland: It was my patella tendon in my kneecap–it basically slid out and then came right back in. From that injury, I'm good now. I feel 100 percent. I think I'm alright.

Cole: How did you injure it?

Holland: I was doing some agility drills and my cleat kind of just stuck in the ground. My leg went, but my foot didn't pick back up, then out I went and down I went.

Cole: How long did that set you back for during the spring?

Holland: It was probably about five days before I could start actually doing stuff with it. Like throwing-wise, it kind of bothered me a little bit. I'd probably say it was about five days.

Cole: So even though you got back pretty quickly, you were behind everyone else's schedule?

Holland: Yeah, I started babying it at first because it's an injury and you want to take it real slow and get yourself back out there. You've got to be careful. But it did set me back a little bit.

Cole: But I'm guessing by this point, now that the season has begun, you're well caught up.

Holland: Yeah, I feel like I'm right there with the guys. My pitch count is up there with them. It's just a matter of time.

Cole: You mentioned the four-pitch repertoire, and I know you've made some changes since going up to the big leagues last year. One thing I noticed was that you're going over your head in the windup now. You made that change late last year, didn't you?

Holland: It was like middle-end kind of. I felt more comfortable and I kept better direction going that way, so it was something that me and Mike Maddux had talked about–going over my head.

Cole: Was that something that helped your command come along?

Holland: Yeah. It kept everything in-line with home plate. It was a big help to me, I think.

Cole: Had you ever gone over your head before in the windup? I know you hadn't since signing with the Rangers.

Holland: Yeah–back in high school. I had like 30 different windups in high school, so I didn't have anything consistent.

Cole: You also introduced a curveball into the equation last year. You hadn't thrown a curveball since signing with the Rangers, had you?

Holland: Once I first signed, I had the curveball, but we took it away once I got into the organization. Before that, I had it in college, but I didn't use it as much. Once I got into the big leagues, Mike talked about changing eye level–just something a little bit different. We started using it again, and I got it back into my routine.

Cole: So even when you were using the curveball last year, it was in addition to your slider and not in place of it?

Holland: Yeah, it was more something that I wasn't going to show too much. I definitely relied more on my slider. It was kind of a get-me-over at the time, but now I've established to myself that I think I can use it at any time.

Cole: You were throwing your slider in the mid-80s tonight. That's a little bit harder than it has been in the past. Did you make a change with it?

Holland: Yeah. I've been working on it the whole time, and I'm getting more comfortable and throwing it a little bit harder each time. It is coming around–getting sharper and harder. That's good for me.

Cole: Is there an adjustment that you made to get it harder?

Holland: I was starting to try and throw a cutter, and I noticed that when I did it, it wouldn't do what I wanted it to. And I started throwing my slider–every once in awhile I'd try to throw it as hard as I could. Then I started seeing that I got more bite, so I just started using the slider like that. That's how I developed it.

Cole: So it's a little bit different than the one you have used in years past?

Holland: Oh yeah. It's not as discus-like.

Cole: I know the Rangers wanted you to work on your secondary stuff here in Triple-A. In general–with the slider, curve and changeup–how do you feel they're coming along compared to last season?

Holland: The slider is a little harder and sharper, so it is definitely better than it was last year, I'd say. The curveball has made huge improvements, so it is much better. And my changeup is the same as it was before–I'm just using it a little bit more than I did last year.

Cole: What has been your main focus in working with pitching coach Terry Clark here in OKC?

Holland: Just to keep working on command with my offspeed and just going right after hitters. I want to do what got me here.

Cole: Tell me about your chances of getting back up to the big leagues. As a guy that spent almost all of last season there, does getting back there ever creep into your mind?

Holland: I don't even think about that. I've got a job to do here, so I'm not too worried about when I'm going to get called up there. When they call me up, that's the time. I'm not going to sit and harp on it. I don't really worry too much about it. When it happens, it happens.

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