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Holland makes statement with spring gem

Holland makes statement with spring gem

Holland makes statement with spring gem
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland did not shy away from his intentions. Wednesday's start against the Athletics wasn't just another Spring Training game for him.

Holland, like several other pitchers in camp, is on a mission this spring.

"The way I see it, I'm trying to make the rotation," Holland said. "I need to make a couple of statements and today was one of them."

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Holland did just that, pitching three scoreless innings in the Rangers' 9-2 victory over the Athletics at Surprise Stadium. Holland allowed two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four.

"I felt really good," Holland said. "I had all my pitches working and had great command. ... Everything is starting to click."

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That would definitely include his command. Holland threw 37 pitches and 30 were for strikes. That's 12.3 pitches per inning for a guy who averaged 18.4 innings per inning last season.

"He had a good plan and the firepower to back it up," pitching coach Mike Maddux said.

"Pretty sharp," added manager Ron Washington. "He moved the fastball around, dropped in some sliders and changeups, threw all his pitches for strikes, worked fast and down in the zone. ... Very impressive."

Three things appear to be helping Holland: his changeup, his delivery and his T-shirts. Yesterday he wore a gold T-shirt featuring a line from the movie "Anchorman."

The changeup will give him a third pitch to go with a slider and fastball. He had all three pitches working in the summer of 2009, when he went 6-2 with a 3.35 ERA in eight starts and three relief appearances. That remains his best stretch as a Major League pitcher.

The changeup, once his best pitch, has eluded him much of the time since then. He started getting it up and Major League hitters clobbered it. He fell into a two-pitch trap and, even then, the slider wasn't that good. He needs the changeup.

"I'm very happy with the slider," Holland said. "I'd like to increase the velocity on it, but I'm more focused on keeping the changeup down. That's the biggest thing."

His delivery is more power-packed and streamlined without extraneous motion, or as Maddux said, "A full-body commitment to the [catcher's] glove."

The T-shirts have become a daily ritual for Holland. He comes to the clubhouse every morning wearing a new T-shirt with a goofy saying across the front of it. One was from Seinfeld saying, "Nobody is sicker than me. Nobody."

The shirts have a purpose. They are part of Holland's way of integrating himself into the convivial clubhouse atmosphere rather than worrying about his situation.

"I'm more relaxed this year and having a good time, having fun with the guys," Holland said. "That has really helped me out a lot. This is a lot easier to do when you're relaxed and having fun."

He still has to win a job. Right now the Rangers have three spots open in the rotation behind Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson. Tommy Hunter might have the inside track on one job, but there are still two other slots. Holland is a good candidate, but Matt Harrison has been equally impressive. Michael Kirkman, David Bush and Alexi Ogando are also still in the running and Brandon Webb will be a factor at some point, if not at the beginning of the season.

Nothing is decided and every outing is important. Holland realizes that.

"I'm definitely here to show I belong in the rotation," Holland said. "I don't want anything else. I want to show I belong in the rotation."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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