ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington referred to young starter Derek Holland as a "pony" who was working toward thoroughbred status last week, and that description seems more apt than ever after the lefty turned in a skittish start in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Like a high-strung colt, Holland needs to learn to harness his energy in tense situations. And nothing will be much tenser for the 25-year-old than a chance to propel Texas into the World Series in Saturday's Game 6 of the ALCS against the Tigers at 7:05 p.m. CT at Rangers Ballpark.
Holland, who lasted just 2 2/3 innings in Game 2, will square off against Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, with his team holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"If he corrals that anxiety that goes with the competition, I think we may finally see a guy get deep in the ballgame," Washington said Friday. "But that's something Holland will have to control within himself.
"We can talk to him, we can tell him what he has to do, but once he crosses those lines, it's all on him. And that's been his problem. It's not his stuff. It's just trying to control anxiety."
2011: Did not face in regular season. Career: 1 GS, 0-
0, 2.25 ERA.
Loves to face.: Elvis Andrus, 3-for-17. Hates
to face: Nelson Cruz, 6-for-18, 2 HR.
Loves to face: Austin Jackson, 0-for-3, 2 K. Hates to
face: Ryan Raburn, 1-for-2, 1 HR, 3 RBI.
Why he'll win: Tigers have won five of his
previous seven starts.
Why he'll win: Holland led AL with four shutouts.
Pitcher beware: Has given up 29 HR in the
regular season; the Rangers have power.
Pitcher beware: Went 2 2/3 innings in Game 2.
Bottom line: Stave off elimination.
Bottom line: Surprise them.
Holland is coming off the shortest outing of any Rangers starter in a postseason where Washington has been quick with the hook.
In the Rangers' first nine playoff games, the longest outing by a starter is six innings (Colby Lewis in Game 2 of the AL Division Series and C.J. Wilson in Thursday's Game 5 loss in the ALCS). The only other team in Major League playoff history with a streak of nine or more games for starters with six or fewer innings was the 2005 Angels.
Relievers have thus had to soak up 23 of the 47 innings pitched so far in an ALCS that has included a pair of extra-inning victories for Texas.
"We don't try to go three innings," Holland said Friday. "Our plan is to go nine. We want to start the game and close it. That's how we look at it. We're going to try to do the best we can to take care of business."
Washington has been more than happy with his relief crew to this point, and for good reason. The bullpen has recorded all three Rangers wins in the ALCS while posting a 1.17 ERA (three runs in 23 innings) and .156 opponents' batting average (12-for-77).
Washington has used at least three relievers in each of the team's nine playoff games, and five relievers in the same game in four of those outings.
That has removed some of the pressure from the starters, but Holland obviously needs to give a better go than his 2 2/3 innings of work in Game 2. Washington pulled him after the young lefty had given up three runs on four hits, including a three-run home run by Ryan Raburn, turning things over to long man Scott Feldman.
"You have to give it to our bullpen," Holland said. "But I'm very frustrated with how I performed. I didn't execute my pitches. I couldn't get my fastball down, and that's a big thing. If you can't throw your fastball, you're not going to stay in there very long."
Holland said he worked on his mechanics in his last throwing session to make sure he was finishing his pitches and not leaving them up. The other challenge will be controlling his emotions at the same time.
"I think after just being out there the first time, I'm going to be a lot calmer," he said. "Just to get the jitters out was the big thing.
"I felt calm last game, but everybody said you could see that I was going a little too fast for the way I usually work. So the big thing now is just to control myself, and I feel like I'm going to be doing just fine with that."
Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said Holland has bounced back strong after similar struggles several times this season. He followed his shortest start of the year, a five-run blowup in two-thirds of an inning against Florida on July 2, with a four-hit shutout of the A's five days later.
"He's had rough starts during the year and come back and pitched well," Napoli said. "He's been through it and knows what it takes to be successful. The big key for him is getting strike one, getting ahead of hitters and locating his fastball down. He'll be all right. He'll be fine."
The Rangers have reason to put their faith in Holland. The Ohio native went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA this season, including a 10-1 mark with a 2.77 ERA over his past 15 starts.
Holland pitched relatively well in the ALDS, getting the Game 2 win over the Rays with a five-inning outing in which he allowed three runs (one earned), and then coming back with an inning and a third of shutout relief in the Game 4 clincher.
Holland had never faced the Tigers this year prior to Monday's playoff start. His only previous appearance against Detroit was a four-inning outing on Sept. 14, 2010, when he gave up four hits and four earned runs (one earned) in an 11-4 victory.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.