ARLINGTON, Texas -- Derek Holland has no trouble following instructions. When he was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City after a spring training that included a right knee sprain and some inconsistent outings, he was told to work on his four-seam fastball command and introducing all his secondary pitches, including a slider, curve and changeup.
Holland did it in the minors -- a 0.93 ERA and 4-1 record in six starts -- and brought the same gameplan with him to the majors Wednesday for his first start in 2010. The result: Six innings of scoreless baseball in a 10-1 Texas Rangers win over the Oakland Athletics. Holland had seven strikeouts and just one walk, and he let only two Oakland baserunners get into scoring position.
It was a different Holland on the mound than the one that ended up with a 6.12 ERA with some struggling starts in the second half of his 2009 season. This was a confident Holland, one that commanded his fastball on both sides of the plate, put his secondary stuff right where he wanted it and didn't lose focus or rhythm once runners got on base.
"The main thing was to be able to attack the zone, but be able to use all four of my pitches," Holland said. "The defense was behind me making plays, and the offense was just crushing the ball."
Holland said he used all of his pitches, especially his changeup.
"The big thing I was upset about is my fastball," Holland said. "I kept getting it up a little bit every once in a while. I was making too many pitches because of that. The thing I want to work on for my next start is getting my pitches down."
It took Holland only a few questions to go ahead and think about his next start. It's that kind of attitude that has the Rangers' staff excited about what Holland can do.
"He was outstanding," manager Ron Washington said. "He came in to right-handed hitters well. He was able to go down and away to lefties. His fastball had command. He pitched very well. He brought what he was doing in the minors up here."
Holland admits that the sprained knee and subsequent start of his season in Triple-A may have been the best thing for him in 2010.
"I never say you want to get hurt, but that knee injury was a big plus for me," Holland said. "It made me establish my off-speed pitches and do the work that I needed to take care of. I thought that was huge."
Holland said he treated every inning as if it were a 0-0 game. And for the first four innings, it was. Holland was particularly pleased that he got Jake Fox on a strikeout to end the fourth. That ended a scoring threat with a runner at third in a scoreless game.
Holland pumped his fist, showing some emotion.
"I got caught up in it," Holland said. "I'm not going to do that again. You don't want to show too much. You don't want to give them any momentum. Stay calm."
Holland said it helped to have Max Ramirez behind the plate. The two played in Oklahoma City some this season and in the past and know each other well. Holland was shaking his head on some pitches in the first but said that was simply to fool the hitters. Ramirez and Holland were clearly on the same page throughout the night. Washington said if not for a long fourth inning, Holland's pitch count might have allowed him to go seven innings. Instead, he threw 103 pitches and got through six.