Holland will have to earn bones from 'pen
Rangers' future starter being pressed into relief role
ANAHEIM -- Derek Holland is going to spend the final week of the first half in the Rangers' bullpen.That will likely be the arrangement in the second half as well, unless the Rangers have another pressing need for a starting pitcher. As Holland works his way through his first season in the Major Leagues, the Rangers seem torn, knowing that the rookie left-hander's future is as a starter but needing him more as a reliever right now. "We think Derek's ultimately going to be a starter for us, and a good one at that," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said on Tuesday. "Right now, he may be best able to help the team in the bullpen, given the position we're in, where his stuff really plays up, especially from the left side. "Depending how things shake out over the next few weeks, he's an option for both roles. A lot of that depends on the health of some other guys and his continued development." Holland was scheduled to start on Thursday against the Mariners. But the Rangers' rotation was thrown out of whack by Vicente Padilla's strained right shoulder. The Rangers had to insert Dustin Nippert into the rotation for Tuesday night's game against the Angels, with Padilla getting pushed back to Wednesday. Originally, the Rangers decided to push everybody back one day. That would have meant Holland pitching on Friday. Now the Rangers have decided to keep everybody else in line and use Holland out of the bullpen. "Right now we need him out of the bullpen," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before Tuesday's game. And after the All-Star break? "Right now we're just talking about going down the stretch this week to the All-Star Game with him in the bullpen," Washington said. "Let's let Nippert get through tonight and see where we go from there." The Rangers currently have four starters locked into the rotation: Kevin Millwood, Padilla, Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter. They are without Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy, who are likely to be out until August or beyond. If Nippert can hold down a spot until Harrison returns, the Rangers can keep Holland in the bullpen. "I still have to go out and pitch," Holland said. "No matter what I do, I've still got to pitch well and help the team win. That's what's on my mind." Holland is 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA in nine relief appearances and 1-4 with a 6.23 ERA in seven starts. The concern -- as with many young Rangers pitchers over the past few years -- is that his secondary pitches are not quite Major League ready. He can get by with a fastball coming out of the bullpen, but he still needs to improve his curve, slider and changeup. "I'm still working on them," Holland said. "I knew from the beginning they weren't picture-perfect. I'm still trying to get them better. I have better control of my slider, my curveball is coming around, but my changeup ... I haven't been using that much." The Rangers refer to Holland as a "work in progress," but there are no plans to send him to Triple-A Oklahoma City to work on his repertoire while starting every fifth day. He's staying with the Rangers. "We know he can pitch effectively out of the bullpen," Washington said. "His upside is as a starter. He has an idea, but we just have to make sure he maintains that progress. It's definitely his secondary stuff that he has to work on. Most young pitchers, that's what they have to develop. They can't go through Major League hitters with just a fastball." Holland was called up in April after making just one start for Oklahoma City. He spent most of 2008 in Class A before making four starts at Double-A Frisco at the end of the season. He has 221 2/3 innings of Minor League experience, but just 30 above Class A. He has much to learn, and it appears he'll do much of it while working out of the bullpen. "We knew we were challenging him by making the move in April," Daniels said. "He's had some games where the changeup is a real weapon, times when the slider and curveball are there -- and other games where they're not and teams are able to sit on one pitch. It's a process, and he's learning on the job."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.