Pressure is on confident Derek Holland

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Derek Holland knows better than anyone that his 16-5 record came with the aid of tremendous run support. But run support alone doesn't lower one's ERA from 4.35 at the start of August to 3.95 at the start of Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

And, as Holland witnessed in Friday's ugly Game 1 loss, run support in the playoffs can't always be counted on.

The Rangers' hopeful young left-hander is banking on his steady improvement to carry his club to a much-needed win in today's Game 2 against the rolling Tampa Bay Rays (6:07 p.m. on TNT and 103.3 FM ESPN). It will be Holland's first career playoff start, and it comes on the heels of a stunning Game 1 blowout and against Rays right-hander James Shields, who dominated the Rangers in two starts over the past month.

So it's a good thing that Holland will take the mound feeling as confident as he's ever felt in a Rangers uniform. Since two forgettable starts in August that continued the Holland frustration of never knowing what you're going to get -- a shutout, which he has four of, or an early exit -- Holland has shown the stuff of a future ace.

"I feel very confident going into this right now," Holland said Friday.

Everyone within the Rangers organization has witnessed his maturation process, including a former flamethrower who happens to be the team's president and CEO.

"Some of the adversities that he went through early with a couple of the performances that he had where he was not only out of the game in the first, second inning, but the position he put his ballclub in, I think that it had a real impact on him," Nolan Ryan said. "And, I think when you sometimes worry about young players when they are in that position and which direction they will go, so it says a lot about Derek that as embarrassed as he was and as down as he was, that he grew off of those experiences and didn't let it drag him down."

Since Aug. 16, the hard-throwing southpaw is 7-1 with a no-decision, which came in a 5-4 loss to the Rays on Sept. 7. He lasted 6 2/3 innings and was the victim of an unearned run.

Holland credits his mostly successful second half of the season to two key areas.

"More than anything, the location of all my off-speed pitches, but the big thing that probably jumps out to everybody is my curveball," Holland said. "I didn't really use that much last year and the beginning of the season, so I probably have to say it is the curveball and the location of my other pitches."

Holland, who was fighting for a spot in the rotation during spring training, is suddenly in the high-pressure position of being the Rangers' second-best shot at getting a win in the ALDS. His postseason a year ago as a reliever is certainly one reason he wasn't guaranteed a rotation spot. Holland allowed six runs in six appearances and had the ill-fated World Series appearance in which he threw 13 pitches and 12 balls to walk three in a row in Game 2.

For a youngster whose major flaw has seemingly been how tough he can be on himself and subsequently screw up his head, Holland said he's put that bit of bad fortune behind him.

"I actually joke about it," Holland said. "You have to have fun with it. I can't really sit and like dwell on it. You know, it's something that happened, it's over, you can't go back. The best way to do it, just to joke about it. Most people I guess don't really realize I did bounce back after that game. Trust me, it's nothing. It is just something that happens, a fluke."

The Rangers' hopes of returning to the World Series -- of getting out of the ALDS -- could hinge on this Holland outing being no joking matter.