ARLINGTON -- For much of his young career, Rangers lefty Derek Holland has been consistently inconsistent.
Consider his first two big league seasons that brought about several back-and-forth trips between the bullpen and rotation. Or his introduction to the playoffs in 2010, which included a pair of stellar performances -- a combined 5 2/3 scoreless innings in two contests against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series -- and others of the different type, including a 13-pitch outing in Game 2 of the World Series that resulted in three walks and a quick exit.
The latter woes followed Holland into the 2011 campaign, as he began the year 6-4 with a 5.10 ERA over his first 17 starts, the final one a five-run outing that didn't even last an inning.
The numbers hardly reveal a Game 2 starter for the AL Division Series against the Rays on Saturday at 6 p.m. CT. Yet that's exactly the title Holland has earned, thanks to one of baseball's best second-half pitching performances.
2011: 2 GS, 1-0, 5.84 ERA Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 6.51 ERA
Loves to face: Josh Hamilton, 2-for-16, 6 K Hates to face: Elvis Andrus, 7-for-12, 2 2B, 2 3B
Loves to face: Johnny Damon, 0-for-7, 4 K Hates to face: Evan Longoria, 6-for-13, 1 HR, 4 2B
Why he'll win: 11 complete games is most since 1999
Why he'll win: 5-0 in his past six starts with 2.06 ERA
Pitcher beware: In 2010 playoffs, Texas scored 4 runs in 4 1/3 IP vs. Shields
Pitcher beware: Unable to get through 4 IP in 4 starts in 2011.
Bottom line: Go the distance
Bottom line: Keep it going
After his disastrous outing on July 2, in which he allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning vs. the Marlins, Holland tossed a shutout against the A's five days later. He posted a 10-1 record and a 2.77 ERA over his final 15 regular-season contests. Only AL Cy Young hopeful Justin Verlander of the Tigers had more wins (13) in the second half than Holland (nine).
Moreover, he was 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA and .206 opponents' batting average in his final six outings, five of which were quality starts. In that span, he struck out 41 and walked just 12, all the while receiving an average of 10.30 runs of support.
It's a hefty amount, no doubt, and it only further equated to an equal helping of confidence for Holland, who ended his season 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA. He hasn't lost since Aug. 21.
"I think Derek has grown as a pitcher and matured as an athlete," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "This second half, and I think some of the adversities that he went through early with a couple of the performances that he had where he was not only out of the game in the first, second inning, but the position that he put his ballclub in, I think that it had a real impact on him.
"And I think when you sometimes worry about young players when they are in that position and which direction they will go, so it says a lot about Derek that as embarrassed as he was and as down as he was, that he grew off of those experiences and didn't let it drag him down."
Holland, though, isn't quite done proving himself, and he'll face his biggest test yet on Saturday, when he's set to go up against Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields and Co. -- a task that comes just eight days shy of his 25th birthday.
"I feel very confident going into this right now," Holland said. "I feel a lot more prepared going into this one compared to what I got to experience last year. Definitely going into the World Series helped out in the long run."
His last against the Rays was a respectable one, as he surrendered three runs with nine strikeouts and three walks while pitching into the seventh inning on Sept. 7. He also pitched against them May 30, allowing five runs and two homers in an 11-5 victory.
Nevermind that his counterpart, Shields, is 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts against the Rangers this year, including an eight-inning scoreless outing at Texas. Surely that makes him the favorite, but Rangers manager Ron Washington has no qualms about sending out Holland.
"He's been one of our hottest pitchers down the stretch," Washington said. "That's it right there. He's been hot, he's been throwing well."
"I think that he looks at himself as the go-to guy," Ryan said. "I think he thinks when it's his day that he has a job to do for his teammates, and that that's his mind-set when he goes out there."
Holland has not just lived through his previous struggles but has admittedly read about them through various media outlets numerous times. But he's rid himself of that story, now ready to write a new chapter.
"I had my bumps and bruises," he said. "The main thing is it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.