Holland looks to stash away another playoff win

Holland looks to stash away another playoff win

Holland looks to stash away another playoff win
ARLINGTON -- Derek Holland's hopes for his other 25th birthday presents may have all come true. But if his gift-list included an American League Championship Series victory, Mother Nature quickly crashed that party.

On the other hand, the early cancellation of Sunday's Game 2 against the Detroit Tigers gave Holland the opportunity to celebrate the birthday in a more traditional and relaxed way than hearing his name screamed by 50,000 fans, many of them sporting sympathy mustaches.

Holland may have aged, but that thin growth above his lip still looks as immature as ever.

It has taken three months for Holland to produce the fuzzy caterpillar below his nose.

"It's still slowly but surely making its way out," Holland said as he waited an extra day to take the ball for Game 2, now booked for Rangers Ballpark on Monday at 3:19 p.m. CT (3 p.m. on FOX).

Tale of the Tape: Game 2
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 33 GS, 15-9, 4.43 ERA, 56 BB, 174 K
Overall: 32 GS, 16-5, 3.95 ERA, 67 BB, 162 K
Key stat: Gave up one run in 7 1/3 innings in ALDS
Key stat: Tied for AL lead in shutouts (4)
At Rangers Ballpark
2011: 1 GS, 1-0, 9.00
Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 6.00
2011: 16 GS, 8-2, 4.69
Career: 32 GS, 16-9, 5.24
Against this opponent
2011: 3 GS, 1-0, 4.76
Career: 6 GS, 3-0, 3.41
2011: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.25
Loves to face: Elvis Andrus (2-for-15)
Hates to face: Adrian Beltre (4-for-11)
Loves to face: Wilson Betemit (1-for-6)
Hates to face: Victor Martinez (1-for-3)
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Held righties to .262 average this year
Why he'll win: Has won six of last seven starts (incl. postseason)
Pitcher beware: Gave up third-most homers in AL (29)
Pitcher beware: Left-handers hit .272 off him this year
Bottom line: Continue postseason success
Bottom line: Keep rolling

The decision to postpone Holland's start against Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer was made quickly. Taking into consideration a saturated field and a dire forecast, Major League Baseball made the call at 2:20 p.m. CT.

Good call, endorsed Holland.

"It's definitely good to know now. You don't want to be here constantly waiting, having it pushed back, then wait some more," he said. "It messes with your routine."

And, speaking of messes ...

"The main thing is, it can be a dangerous thing," added Holland, who recalled seeing the Yankees' CC Sabathia slip on the Yankee Stadium mound after making a pitch before Game 1 of the ALDS was halted by rain. "As pitchers, you don't want a chance of that happening. It's good to know that they're watching out for injuries. The Tigers are probably happy with it, too."

Holland's growth as a pitcher can be seen in how he rebounded after a rough April (3-1, 5.12 ERA) to finish exceptionally strong down the stretch (4-0, 2.20 ERA in September). It can be seen in how he brushed off a rough first inning in Game 2 of the ALDS and pitched a shutdown fifth inning after the Rangers took a commanding lead the previous half-inning.

And it can be seen in the fact that manager Ron Washington is confident in having Holland pitch what will be a crucial swing game in the seven-game series, offering the Rangers an opportunity to use their home-field advantage to the fullest.

This is a young athlete working his way into his prime, right before everyone's eyes, and at a better pace than that "Dutchstache," as his teammates have dubbed it.

"He's matured," Washington said. "He's turning into a quality pitcher. Right now, he's not a total thoroughbred. He's just a little pony, but he'll develop into a thoroughbred."

For now, the Rangers hope they can ride him to a crucial victory in the ALCS, and Holland is ready for the assignment against a tough Tigers team based about a four-hour drive from his hometown of Newark, Ohio. He hasn't faced them this year, and allowed four runs (one earned) in four innings against them in September 2010.

A year ago, Holland was moved into the bullpen for the final week of the regular season and into the postseason after making five September starts, and he had mixed results, including a memorable -- or rather, forgettable -- outing in Game 2 of the World Series in which he walked three Giants batters in 13 pitches.

A year later, there's a sense of having been there before for Holland.

"Last year, I didn't really know what to expect, how to handle anything," Holland said. "I have a better idea, especially after being around with Cliff [Lee], and then C.J. [Wilson] has been helping me big time this year in how to handle myself as a starter.

"This year it's a big difference. I'm a lot more relaxed and I would say composed."

For those who know Holland well, that's a huge key to any success he has on the mound. Even in his postseason debut this season, he walked in a run and needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning. But true to his maturation process, he put up zeroes after that and wound up outperforming Rays ace James Shields to take the win in a crucial Game 2 victory.

To catcher Mike Napoli, it's really just a matter of youthful exuberance as opposed to the knock-kneed nervousness of a newbie.

"He's not scared, he just needs to go out and calm his adrenaline down, which I know he will do," said Napoli, who guided Holland through his ALDS start. "He got through his playoff start the first time, so if he calms down his adrenaline and throws strikes, he'll be fine."

As far as Washington is concerned, the ability to work through adversity is a good sign Holland is becoming more of a thoroughbred and less of a pony.

That took into the 2011 season to really develop, however. Holland did not get off to a good start in the regular season, but he really finished strong in September, starting it with seven shutout innings at Fenway Park and finishing the month with a .181 opponents' batting average.

"I think early in the year when things went wrong, he didn't know how to put a stop to it," Washington said. "Now he understands that when things go wrong, the one thing that every pitcher wants to do in those situations is minimize the damage. He's done a good job for quite a while now of minimizing the damage."

It's in the arm and in the mind that Holland has matured, not necessarily the upper lip, where he has slowly -- very slowly -- grown a celebrity of sorts, with some Rangers fans emulating the barely visible mustache.

"It's very funny to me to see that," Holland said. "It's pretty neat that I've got something started like that. But at the same time, the mustache doesn't dictate how I pitch."

To which the Rangers and their fans say: Thank goodness. And while we're at it, thanks for not trying to grow a full beard.

"A beard for me would probably take three years," Holland said.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.