Holland's maturation in focus yet again

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Derek Holland’s breakthrough season was showcased in the third inning of the Rangers’ 7-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.

Kansas City took a 1-0 lead on Alcides Escobar’s one-out RBI single. And Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin made Holland’s job more difficult, trying to throw out Chris Getz at third base rather than keeping Escobar at first.

Holland was faced with getting out of a runners-at-second-and-third jam with one out. He did it with two ground balls, one back to the pitcher and the other to third base.

“You want to control as much damage as you can,” Holland said.

It’s the maturation of Holland, who in the past probably would have given up another run or two. Not this season. The 26-year-old left-hander lowered his ERA to 2.81 and picked up his fourth win of the month. The first-place Rangers were 6-0 in May on Holland’s starts.

Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who got to face the younger Holland when he was with the Chicago White Sox, sees a pitcher who is coming of age.

"I don't think I've seen him this focused," Pierzynski said. "It always seemed like there was some kind of distraction. He's more comfortable. It's part of being a big leaguer and growing up.”

Holland gets it. He knows by attacking the zone and minimizing damage he gives a Rangers offense that can score runs in a hurry a chance to turn the game in one inning. That’s what happened in the third inning Friday night.

“My job is to go out there and keep momentum on our side,” Holland said.

The Rangers scored four runs after Holland escaped the top of the third. Three straight singles, the last by the red-hot Adrian Beltre, tied the game at 1.

Nelson Cruz put the road-weary Royals away with a three-run home run off the Diamond Club facade in left field for a 4-1 lead.

Holland went to work after that, doing what he’s done all season -- pitching seven innings or more and keeping the damage to a minimum. He has seven starts in which he’s gone at least seven innings. Yu Darvish has six.

Darvish is the staff ace. Holland might be rising to 1A.

“If Yu Darvish wasn’t the staff ace right now,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said, “[Derek] would be the guy.”