Wash heaps praise on Derek Holland

CHICAGO -- After opening the season with three straight brilliant performances, manager Ron Washington had nothing but bouquets to throw Derek Holland’s way. What’s the difference between the Holland that’s shown up this season and the inconsistent performer of the past?

“His breaking ball has much more depth this year,” Washington said. “We’ve been trying to get him to back foot it and he’s finally been able to back foot it. He brought his changeup back into play, which in his first couple years was his bread and butter. For some reason it got away from him. Now he’s throwing his changeup and making quality pitches with it. He’s not leaving his fastball up and over the dish with all the regularity that he has in the past; he’s able to put it where he wants to. That’s all because of his dedication to what he wanted to do for himself and the team.”

In previous years, there were rumors that Holland had been distracted. Washington admitted that was likely the case, but that’s an issue in Holland’s rear view mirror.

“It wasn’t just talk, he was distracted,” Washington said. “That was fact. I think what happened is with another year older he’s graduated mentally. He understands what’s priority now, not that he didn’t understand priority, he just didn’t know how to put it in proper perspective. He has done that. The key now is to hold on to it.”

Washington added that in Holland's three starts this season, he has yet had to go out to the mound to get Holland back on track. It’s little things like that which show Washington just how much Holland has matured since he made his major league debut nearly four years ago.

“He came up, maybe, when he wasn’t ready. It was a growing pain time,” Washington said of Holland’s inconsistencies. “He started in the bullpen and was going back and forth. The past three years he locked into one situation and was a starter. All that he went through from the first year he got here to right now, it’s all come together. If he’d had time in the minor leagues to put that together, he might have been the pitcher we think he should be – that he’s become now – sooner.

"But that’s the way baseball is now. We bring these kids up here now and they have to learn on the job. It’s not easy learning how to play at the big league level. Some guys can get away with it, some guys go through growing pains. He’s one of the guys that we had to go through growing pains with.”

Washington pointed out that Holland is a much more polished pitcher than he was in 2011 when he won 16 games and tossed 8 1/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series. Washington went on to say that he’s not just going on three games evidence on this season. He’s confident that this start is for real because since Day 1 of spring training, Holland showed up with improved stuff.

Yu update: Yu Darvish will start on Friday, going on six days rest. Darvish said the extra days won’t change much – he did not throw an extra bullpen session – it just gives him some extra time to relax.

After being one out from a perfect game in his first start of the season, Darvish has given up three earned runs in each of his next two starts, going a combined 11 innings. Darvish was able to keep both games close despite not having his best stuff, something he often failed to do last season, his first in the big leagues.

“I don’t really know (what’s different),” Darvish said. “But I think emotionally and psychologically I’m a little bit more stable this year than last year.”

Darvish said that in Japan he was always able to keep games close, even when he went to the mound without his A game, and he’s glad he’s finally able to do that here.

Darvish also added that the blister on his right ring finger is a non-issue, saying that it’s "perfect."

Sticking with Kirkman: Michael Kirkman got two quick outs in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Cubs. However, he couldn’t find a way to get the ever-elusive third out. Kirkman allowed a soft single and a walk before he was replaced by closer Joe Nathan.

Washington didn’t hesitate when asked what he’d do if faced with a similar situation and Kirkman as the logical choice to go to in the pen.

“What you do is, you keep giving him the ball in situations where if he has hiccup he can work his way out of it until he finds it,” Washington said. “He’s gonna be important to us in that bullpen. He had bad period, then he had two pretty good (outings), then he had another (bad) one. We just gotta keep giving him the ball. We gotta figure out a way to get him right, and the only way to do that is to keep giving him the ball.”

Washington said he can’t keep going to Robbie Ross or Joe Ortiz, because if he did, they’d be burned out by June. Kirkman has a 7.20 ERA in six appearances (five innings) on the season.