Derek Holland caps solid starter homestand

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said it wasn't a complicated formula that the club's starting pitchers are following through the first seven games of the season.

"They are throwing early strikes, which is something that's preached around here, and they aren't giving in," Napoli said. "But more than that, the young guys are growing up. They're not throwing out there. They're pitching."

Derek Holland, one of those young guys at 25, finished the homestand off in style, throwing more pitches (115) and going deeper into the game (7 1/3 innings) than any Rangers starter this season. He completed an impressive seven-day period for the club's rotation, which has a 5-0 mark and a 2.42 ERA through seven games. Opponents are hitting just .214 off the Rangers' starters and as a group, they have 12 walks and 40 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings pitched.

The 2.42 ERA is second-best in the AL, behind the Kansas City Royals, whose starters have put up a 1.85 ERA through six games.

Holland threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 28 batters he faced. It was a pattern most of the Rangers starters followed in the first seven games. In fact, the only starter not to have a quality start -- six innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed -- was Yu Darvish, who gave up five runs in 6 2/3 innings but still got a win Monday over Seattle.

Holland, who was disappointed with a few walks in his last start, didn't walk anybody in his 7 1/3 innings Thursday afternoon. He added eight strikeouts and the only two runs he allowed came in the sixth (on an RBI single) and the seventh (a long home run by Kyle Seager on a hanging curve).

"I wanted to stay consistent with both my fastball and off-speed pitches," Holland said. "The big thing that [pitching coach] Mike Maddux pitches to us is first-pitch strikes. If we go out there and throw our first-pitch strikes, go after hitters right away, it makes it a lot tougher for those hitters to react."

Maddux was pleased with how his pitchers executed that mentality.

"We call it 'going on the attack,'" Maddux said. "They met expectations, which is a bit of an understatement. They picked up right where they left off. It's pretty exciting."

Holland said the pitchers aren't so much competing with each other as much as pushing each other to see if they can keep the success going.

"We're trying to motivate each other," Holland said. "We're very happy with the way things have taken off. We've been doing our jobs. That's to go out there and make sure we give our team a chance to win."

That's what manager Ron Washington preaches that he wants from his starters: Just keep the team in games.

"They can’t control how many runs are being put on the board. All they can control is making sure that they limit the opposition to the least amount of runs that they possibly can, and that’s been it right there," Washington said. "They’ve been keeping us in ball games."

Washington was pleased that Holland was able to make key pitches when the count was 3-2, which was often Thursday. And he liked the "explosiveness" of Holland's fastball.

"He can slow the game down," Washington said. "Still gotta work on slowing it down even more, but he’s learned how to slow the game down. We put those two runs on the board and he went out there and he certainly wanted to put a zero up bad, and he was trying to do it with the first hitter instead of just relaxing and continuing doing what he was doing. But he’ll grow into that."

Growing is what this staff is doing, as Napoli points out. Now, they'll take their act on the road for nine games against Minnesota, Boston and Detroit. It's a chance to test their mettle against tougher competition.

"They just have to keep it going," Napoli said. "They're pitching with confidence."

Veteran Michael Young, who had four RBIs on Thursday, isn't surprised by what the staff is doing.

"Our pitching depth right now is pretty impressive, and it’s fun to play behind these guys, especially the young guys who seem to take it on them to get better every time they go out there," Young said. "They all not only want to be big league pitchers, they want to be impact big league pitchers, and that’s a big difference. They don’t want to just settle into a rotation. They want to go out there and put up big numbers and dominate."