Who'll be Rangers' best pitcher?


Wild about Harry

Taylor By Jean-Jacques Taylor

Matt Harrison is the kind of pitcher who blends into the background because he doesn't come with Yu Darvish's swag. Or Derek Holland's fastball. Or even Colby Lewis' postseason success.

But all of that is exactly why he's going to end up with the most victories on the Texas Rangers' staff this season.

While fans and social media focus on Lewis, Yu, Holland and Neftali Feliz, Harrison is going to get the ball every fifth day and go about his business without much fanfare, just like he did last year.

We're talking about a guy who went 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA. He pitched a career-high 185.2 innings, allowing just 180 hits.

More important, he believes in himself now. That hasn't always been the case. Sometimes, he's given hitters too much credit while not giving his stuff nearly enough credit.

He also has more motivation than anyone else on the staff.

Holland and Yu have been paid, and this is probably Lewis' last year with the Rangers. If Feliz fails as a starter for whatever reason, he can return to being a closer. Harrison needs a good year to get the same type of five-year, $28.5 million payday Holland received in spring training.

It helps that as the No. 3 starter in the rotation Harrison won't have quite as many duels with No. 1 and No. 2 starters as Lewis and Holland. In 2011, Holland ranked third in MLB in run support (8.60) per start and Lewis was sixth (7.71).

The law of averages says Harrison, who ranked 34th (6.56) in run support, could win a few more games with just a little more run support.

But the primary reason he's going to win more games than anyone else on the Rangers' staff is that he's continuing to mature as a pitcher and understand what makes him successful.

He's about outs, not strikeouts. He's about letting batters put the ball in play because that leads to low pitch counts, which leads to more innings. He's become cerebral about his craft.

The best part about Harrison's approach these days is the consistency. There won't be many highs and lows among his starts.

Each year, he has improved because a failure from the previous season has motivated him.

Last spring, he wasn't guaranteed a rotation spot but started Game 7 of the World Series. He didn't pitch well, and that's been the epicenter of his offseason workouts.

He's determined to prove last season wasn't the apex of what he can do; it was only the beginning.

Dutch will dominate

Durrett By Richard Durrett

It was not an easy call to predict which starting pitcher would have the best season for the Texas Rangers in 2012.

That says a lot about the emphasis this organization has placed on starting pitching in recent years. It's a young and talented group that doesn't even have room for Scott Feldman, who won 17 games in 2009, pitched great this spring and would have certainly made the rotation in most seasons.

So who will be the club's most successful starter in 2012? I'm going with Derek Holland.

The 25-year-old is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 16-5 mark and a 3.95 ERA. But more important than the pure numbers is that Holland figured out how to utilize his great stuff and out-think hitters on a consistent basis in the second half of the season.

Holland was 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his final 15 regular-season starts. Only 2012 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander had more in the AL in that stretch.

Holland proved to the league -- and himself -- that he could perform when the pressure was at its highest. His Game 4 start in the World Series was one of the best in club history, helping the Rangers even the Fall Classic and making sure they didn't fall into a nearly insurmountable hole.

That 2011 season was no fluke. Yes, he led the AL in run support, and that won't happen again. But if he allows 3 1/2 runs or fewer on average -- and that's doable -- he'll win plenty with the Rangers' lineup behind him. Holland has had the dominating stuff for years, but had never been able to put it all together. He did last season and got a new contract to show for it.

He's also growing into more of a leader. When things got tough again for him in early 2011, he didn't hide. He sought out teammates and coaches in an effort to get better both mentally and physically.

And there's no question about Holland's work ethic. Ask his teammates and coaches about the work he puts in between starts, in the offseason and on the mound during bullpen sessions and you'll find out he puts in the time to get even better.

Holland focused on fine-tuning his game this spring, working on a two-seamer that he can throw reliably against right-handed pitchers. He's constantly discussing his approach with pitching coach Mike Maddux, consultant Greg Maddux and catchers Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba.

Holland's got the talent and drive to have another great season. I think he will.