Surprise positional outlook: No. 2 starter

Our race through the Rangers' rotation continues all week.

Today's position: No. 2 starter

We've designated this spot to Derek Holland, though the exact order of the rotation has yet to be determined.

Holland, 25, took an important step forward in 2011. The left-handed pitcher was 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 32 starts, pitching 198 innings -- by far the highest of his professional career. It was his pitching down the stretch that opened eyes, though. Starting July 7, Holland was 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his final 15 regular-season starts. His ERA dropped from 5.10 to 3.95 in that span. Only Cy Young winner Justin Verlander had more wins in that stretch in the American League.

Holland's mental toughness increased, too. He was able to grind through more innings and do a better job of getting past any hurdles during a start. He credits talking with some of his veteran teammates as a big reason why he was in a better place with his mental game.

Holland had four complete game shutouts, tied with Tampa Bay's James Shields for the AL lead in that category (two behind Cliff Lee for the big league high). It was a Rangers club record for a left-handed pitcher and the most since Doc Medich had four complete-game shutouts in 1981. Only one Ranger had more shutouts in a season (Fergie Jenkins had six in 1974).

He started the season as the club's No. 4 starter and much of the offseason talk was about how he'd rebound from a rough World Series relief appearance. Holland threw 13 pitches in the eighth inning of Game 2 and 12 of them were balls. But Holland said even before spring training that he had a bad inning and was moving on. And he did.

After the impressive second-half of 2011, Holland went into the postseason full of confidence. He ended up pitching in six games (four of them starts) and was 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA with 14 strikeouts and eight walks in 24 innings. But he was inconsistent in the 2011 postseason until the night of Game 4 of the World Series. After a pep talk from manager Ron Washington, Holland went out and put together a memorable performance. He threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings and was in total control after Adrian Beltre gloved a liner off the bat of Rafael Furcal to start the game. It took away a double and Holland didn't have many hard-hit balls off him after that.

The start put the Rangers right back in the series, tying things at two games apiece. What it does for Holland from here will be fun to watch. It certainly sent him into the offseason with confidence. He's got the stuff to be successful, as the second half of 2011 showed, and now he knows he can compete on baseball's biggest stage.

Washington has talked about Holland's attitude this offseason and how he knows he can't take anything for granted, but at the same time has lofty goals and wants to do everything he can to achieve them. He heads into 2012 as one of the bright, up-and-coming left-handed starters in the game.