Manager: Derek Holland evolving from pony

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The hair atop Derek Holland's head grows about as fast as that fuzzy stuff on his upper lip -- which seems to have its own cult following. The mustache, if that's what you want to call it, isn't all that's growing.

If the shag hanging out of Holland's Rangers cap these days seems a wee bit longer than normal, that's because it is. Holland, who turns 25 today and will face the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS tonight, hasn't trimmed his noggin since the Houston Astros series back in late June. It's not exactly hippie hair and has yet to increase his hat size, but it certainly is puffier than the buzz he once sported.

"I just decided to let it go," Holland said.

Not unlike many of the mental trappings that had been known to trip up the young left-hander. Holland, who faces Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer, is now something of a postseason veteran with his relief work a year ago and his first playoff start (and victory) in last week's ALDS over with.

Holland also made a relief appearance in Game 4 at Tampa Bay. In 6 1/3 innings of postseason work this time around, the maturing hurler who can whiz fastballs in the low to mid-90s and mix in good off-speed stuff has given up just one earned run on seven hits and two walks. He has struck out two and given up one home run.

The pressure was on the youngster in that Game 2 against the Rays because ace C.J. Wilson had an awful outing as the Rangers were routed in Game 1, 9-0. Holland had a rough first inning, walking in a run with two outs, but he limited the damage and remained focused. Earlier in the season, he might not have made it beyond a couple of innings.

"Last year I didn't really know what to expect, how to handle anything," Holland said. "I have a better idea, especially after being around Cliff Lee, and C.J. Wilson has been helping me big-time this year in how to handle myself as a starter. This year is a big difference. I'm a lot more relaxed and I would say composed."

This time around Holland said he's eager to take the hill every chance he gets. As opposed to Game 2 in the ALDS when the pressure was on to even the series, Holland has an opportunity to put his club in a commanding position before this series shifts to Detroit's expansive Comerica Park.

Rangers manager Ron Washington certainly has shown trust in Holland, pushing him ahead of workhorse Colby Lewis in the playoff rotation order. (Of course, allowing Lewis to pitch on the road, where he's been much better this season, also might have something to do with that.)

"Early in the year when things went wrong, he didn't know how to put a stop to it," Washington said. "Now we understand that when things go wrong, the one thing that every pitcher wants to do in those situations is minimize the damage. He's done a good job for quite a while now of minimizing the damage. What goes with that is maturity. He's matured. He's turning into a quality pitcher.

"Right now he's not a total thoroughbred. He's just a little pony, but he'll develop into a thoroughbred."