FRISCO, Texas -- Derek Holland's six innings of shutout ball Sunday in game four of Double-A Frisco's Texas League Championship series with Arkansas didn't just leave RoughRiders fans wanting more. Holland himself wanted to go a little further, too. "I didn't want to come out, but it's a team effort," Holland said. "I've got to rely on my team, too. It's tough, but you just have those days." Holland needed just 71 pitches to get through his six innings. Of course, there wasn't much use in leaving a 21-year-old on the mound too long in his last start of the season.
Holland's six innings Sunday night gave him 171 1/3 innings pitched for the season -- 104 1/3 more than he tossed last season in 16 games during his first professional season. But Holland has made the most of his 171 1/3 innings this season. His six innings Sunday were no different. Holland admitted he didn't have full life on his fastball, which usually sits in the mid-90s -- impressive velocity for a left-hander. Instead, his fastball ranged in the low-90s, forcing him to use his changeup and slider more often. "I knew I had to go out and really pitch offspeed and actually use more offspeed, and just try to bounce back and get my fastball going," Holland said. Even Frisco pitching coach Terry Clark has said Holland's offspeed pitches are average, but he used them effectively Sunday. After a 23-pitch first inning, in which Holland allowed a single and committed a throwing error but got out of the inning with his first strikeout, Holland went on to allow just four more hits and a walk while striking out five more batters. And he needed just 48 more pitches to do so. Holland seemed locked in after winning his seven-pitch battle with Arkansas' Corey Smith to end the first inning. He escaped falling into an early hole and let his emotions show when he struck Smith out. "It was huge," Holland said. "They had a runner in scoring position. That was a big out right there." He cruised through his last five innings to finish his season on about the highest note possible. And after carrying such a heavy load this season, he said he will shut down for the offseason. But if he began to tire down the stretch, it didn't show. In three playoff starts, Holland threw 20 2/3 innings, allowed just four runs (one earned) on 13 hits and four walks for a microscopic 0.44 ERA. He struck out 18 in all and was able to throw more than 100 pitches in each of his first two starts of the playoffs. That's not far off from the 0.69 ERA he posted with 29 strikeouts to six walks in four regular season starts with Frisco. "I don't know if I've seen him grow," manager Scott Little said. "He came in here as a stud and he's pitched like that every game. The only thing I could see him improve upon is to throw a no-hitter. He's been dominant in every start he's been here." Even more encouraging, at his age, Holland still has plenty of room to grow as a pitcher, and now he has an offseason to ponder all he's learned in his first full professional season. "I know a little bit more now. Toward the end of the season I've learned a lot, actually, from the beginning to now," Holland said. "Just how hitters react. How they stand. It's hard to explain, but when I'm on the mound, I can see things."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.