Optimistic Holland putting injuries in past

Texas lefty would like questions on his woes to be in past, too

Optimistic Holland putting injuries in past

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Left-handed pitcher Derek Holland was up early on Monday morning, working out on the back fields at the Rangers' Spring Training complex. He has been here since last Wednesday, more than a week ahead of when Rangers pitchers and catchers are supposed to report.

After missing most of the past two seasons because of injuries, Holland, 29, is eager to get back on the mound. He also made it clear he is not eager to get here early so he can answer the same tedious questions about his injuries.

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He has been there and done that.

"I have to move past that," Holland said, sitting outside behind the Rangers' renovated clubhouse. "The more we talk about things negative in the past, the more it comes back to haunt us. If you spend more time talking about positive things, the positive results will show. I don't want to talk about what happened last year, what happened the year before, with the injuries. I'm past that. Now we have to focus on 2016 and move forward."

Most of the injuries have been well-documented. Holland missed the first five months of the 2014 season with torn cartilage in his left knee. He came to camp last season healthy and determined to make up for lost time before he suffering a strained muscle in his left shoulder in his first start in the home opener. He missed the first 4 1/2 months of the season.

"Obviously the past two years have been brutal," Holland said. "I think the big thing that hurt me the most is last spring. ... I wanted to make sure I was healthy, but I tried to come back quicker and overdid it going into Spring Training, going pedal to the metal from Day 1. That was something that cost me, and I think that is why we had that setback."

Holland takes liner off hand

The injury that's almost been forgotten is the middle finger on his left hand. Holland got whacked by Jose Altuve's line drive up the middle in his next-to-last start and had to deal with the finger the rest of the way. He won his last start, against the Angels, but then got knocked out after just two innings in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays.

"The line drive from Jose Altuve that hit me in the middle finger affected me big-time," Holland said. "It's something I use a lot with my middle finger and my grips. I couldn't grip the ball as well as I wanted to.''

He probably shouldn't have pitched against the Blue Jays.

"I'm not a guy who uses excuses," Holland said. "I tried to go out there and compete every single time because you see guys like Adrian Beltre try to go out and perform with the injuries they have and try their best no matter what. I wanted to be that guy. I did not want to be taken out at the end of the season because of a finger injury."

The injuries are in the past, and that's where Holland wants to keep them. He has worked with Rangers psychologist Don Kalkstein on maintaining a positive mental attitude, and he has become close with left-hander Cole Hamels. They have had some deep discussions this offseason about their craft.

"I've gotten with the right people and they have helped me keep my head on my shoulders and grounded," Holland said. "I'm taking this spring as if I haven't made the rotation and I'm trying to win a job. But at the same time, it will be under control, making my pitches so that when it is Day 1, I'm ready to go. Out here, you can't win a Cy Young in Spring Training.

"One of the things I have been taught is not to look too deep into the future. Control what is happening now and continue to learn from it. I know I have had setbacks with the injuries, but I know my future is still bright. I still feel good about the 2016 season."

The high expectations are still there. Holland won 16 games for the Rangers in 2011, pitched brilliantly in the World Series and then signed a five-year contract extension the following spring. He has had other streaks when he has pitched brilliantly.

But what people don't realize is this could be Holland's last season with the Rangers, because this is the fifth year of the extension. The Rangers hold an $11 million option for 2017 and an $11.5 million option for 2018, and both options are highly favorable to the club if Holland is at his best.

But nothing is guaranteed.

All Holland knows is he has lofty goals. Those haven't changed.

"They will not be leaving me," Holland said. "I want to be the best pitcher. If you try to take that away and try to act like that stuff is gone, you're not out there competing. You're not who you should be. For me, I want to be the best pitcher I can be, the best left-hander, and for that I have to go out there, compete, be myself. If I do that, I can control my own destiny."

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