SEATTLE -- Hours before Thursday's complete-game gem, pitcher Derek Holland had a long chat with Michael Young. It was a counseling session of sorts, one designed to remind Holland of what he can do if he keeps his focus. And it wasn't the first time Young has done that. He was there shortly after the low point of Holland's season (and maybe career) when the 24-year-old couldn't get out of the first inning against the Florida Marlins a little less than two weeks ago.
It was after that start that the idea of Scott Feldman joining the rotation gained major momentum. Holland's inconsistency was the story, and his inability to pitch out of a jam right away forced manager Ron Washington use his bullpen much longer than he wanted or expected.
But rather than pile on Holland, the Rangers took a different approach. Young was one of the catalysts. It was concerted effort to build up the young pitcher's confidence. The message: No one was ready to give up on Holland.
"He responds well to that," Young said. "With Derek, I think he's got such great stuff, the biggest step for him is to make sure mentally he commits to every pitch he throws. It's tough because that's the thing that allows guys to take the next step. They believe in their stuff. They have conviction when they pitch and every pitch they throw, they're mentally behind it. That's all I've been trying to tell him.
"Every pitch you throw, believe that this is the pitch. I'm going to put this in the right spot. I'm going right after my target and I'm going to have a full head of steam the whole game."
Young reiterated it before Thursday's game and then watched as Holland took another critical step in his quest to become a consistent, frontline starter. He held the Mariners scoreless for nine innings. He was perfect through five innings, throwing just 53 pitches. Then came the sixth.
"I got caught looking at the scoreboard at the wrong time and realized what was going on," Holland said.
After a walk to Franklin Gutierrez, whose batting average hasn't reached the Mendoza line, and a single to Chone Figgins, Holland's shot at history was over. Could he avoid a big inning that would ruin his shutout and turn a comfortable Rangers lead into a tight game?
"I'm sure everyone could see it, 'Here it comes, that big inning,'" Holland said. "But I got out of it."
He did so with some critical pitches, getting No. 9 hitter Greg Halman to pop up, Ichiro Suzuki to ground into a fielder's choice and Brendan Ryan to fly out. He worked around two singles in the seventh, as well, and then allowed two more hits in the ninth before shutting the door for good.
"It's huge," Holland said. "That's why I think to me that's part of the maturing process -- that big inning. It was starting to build right there [in the sixth] and I made my pitches when I needed to and my defense made plays. That's more of the maturing side of things."
"He can't throw a shutout every time, but if he can stay consistent like that throwing the ball in the strike zone, I think he's going to be fine," Washington said. "He did an outstanding job. It's about quality strikes. He had his changeup working, threw some breaking balls, moved the ball around, elevated it. He pitched very well."
Holland became the first Rangers starter since Ronald Reagan's first term in office to throw two straight shutouts. Charlie Hough did it three straight times late in the 1983 season. He also gets his name mentioned along with two of the top pitchers in the game today. He joins Cliff Lee as the only other pitcher with back-to-back shutouts this season. And Holland is the first AL pitcher to do it since Toronto's Roy Halladay in 2009. And to think this was the guy that appeared destined to join the bullpen pretty soon if something didn't change. Clearly, something has changed.
"I give him a lot of credit because he's really open to information," Young said. "He seeks me out a lot. He wants to know how I think of things from the hitter's perspective. But at some point, there's just a baseball perspective. The best players believe. Their confidence is high and it never budges. That's the difference between the really good ones and the guys that bounce around."
Yes, Holland's two shutouts were against the A's and the Mariners, two of the worst offensive teams in the league. But if he pitches like he has in those two starts, he'll be competitive against any lineup in the majors.
"He's got a ways to go," Young said "He's still young. Those things get built up through time. But every pitch he throws, he's putting one foot in front of the other. That's what we want to see. The thing the young guys need to realize is they'll never have this game figured out, but the thing they can do is figure themselves out -- know what works, know what to do when they're in a funk, how to ride out a good wave. I think he's on his way. Obviously, he's got a lot of people around here that believe in him."
And he'll get another chance to continue the maturation process against a bigger challenge next week: The Angels.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.