ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Derek Holland was still stewing a bit about his first inning shortly after the Rangers' 5-4 loss to the Rays that was decided a few innings after Holland left the game.
Holland walked the leadoff batter, Desmond Jennings, and then ended up allowing back-to-back doubles to Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist to make the score 2-0. Holland hung a few curve balls and fastballs and paid the price.
"The first inning is the one that killed me," Holland said. "Falling behind hitters hurt."
Only it didn't kill him. It might have a few months ago or last year. But not now. Holland has enough confidence these days to limit the damage in a poor inning (he got Sean Rodriguez and Brandon Guyer to keep a runner in scoring position from coming home) and put it behind him.
Holland gave up four runs, though three were earned as one run scored on a throwing error by Ian Kinsler in the second. Holland went 6 2/3 innings, earning the quality start. It was the first time in his career that he had three consecutive quality starts. It came after he held Boston scoreless for seven innings last weekend and gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings in a big win over the Angels in Arlington on Aug. 26. Holland said he knew he hadn't put together three straight quality starts in his career, joking that the media has pointed it out to him. He says his mission is to continue the streak.
"I did a fairly good job of keeping us in the ballgame," Holland said. "I knew we were going to come back, know how the offense is, had to keep my head straight, don’t let that type of stuff get to me."
That's what Holland did. And it started with a fastball full of life. Catcher Mike Napoli, who had a 2.84 ERA with Holland on the mound before Wednesday's outing, made sure his young starter continued to mix things up. They went primarily fastballs, but changed speeds and threw in sliders and curve balls that kept the Rays' hitters guessing.
"He was doing what he’s been doing, using his heater and spotting it and using some off-speed when he needed to," said Napoli, who had an eighth-inning home run to help the Rangers eventually come back to tie the game before losing in extra frames. "And he got some swings and misses. I just stuck with the game plan, tried to mix the fastball in and out, and use the offspeed when we had to."
It was good enough to get Holland nine strikeouts, just one off his season and career high. At one point, Holland struck out six of seven batters in the middle innings.
Besides the numbers the past three starts that show consistency, Holland is becoming reliable. While Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando have clearly felt the fatigue of a long season, Holland has managed to stay physically sharp. Part of that is that he's thrown some innings the past few seasons, but hasn't been able to stay successful enough to become a stalwart in the rotation. That appears to be changing. Holland, though, stresses learning from the good and bad starts and applying it to the next one.
"I feel like I'm maturing," Holland said. "I'm growing as a pitcher. I just have to keep it going."