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05/13/10 12:38 AM ET
Holland, homers push Rangers atop AL West
Starter makes strong case to remain in rotation by stifling A's
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Derek Holland is in the Rangers rotation. Matt Harrison is on the disabled list. The cruel reality is, when it comes to a spot in a Major League lineup or a starting rotation, possession is nine-tenths of the law. Just ask Tommy Hunter. Holland now has the spot, and he showed right away he's determined to keep it by pitching six scoreless innings in the Rangers' 10-1 victory over the Athletics on Wednesday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. Holland was officially called up before the game from Triple-A Oklahoma and Harrison was placed on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Holland, who has actually been hanging around the clubhouse since Sunday, went out and stopped the Athletics on five hits as the first-place Rangers won for the ninth time in 12 games. "This is huge," said Holland, who was 4-1 with a 0.93 ERA in six starts at Oklahoma City. "This keeps my confidence up and shows I can pitch up here just like I did down at Oklahoma City." The Rangers supported Holland with an old-style barrage of long ball, setting a season high with five home runs off Athletics pitchers. Josh Hamilton, with a two-run shot, and Vladimir Guerrero went back-to-back in the fifth inning and Max Ramirez and Michael Young both hit solo shots in the sixth. Justin Smoak then hit his fourth home run with a man on in the sixth . The Rangers had four home runs on Friday night as well, but they entered this game with just 27 on the season, fifth fewest in the American League. They were second in the league last year. Holland had trouble with his economy of pitches, throwing 103 over six innings. But he only walked one and struck out seven by being able to command his fastball on both sides of the plate and supplement it with a curve, slider and changeup. "The main thing was doing what I've been doing -- attacking the zone and using all my pitches," Holland said. This was what he looked like for much of last summer before fading down the stretch and losing six of his final seven starts. He was confident, poised and aggressive. "That was a solid performance," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He just pitched pretty good, he really did. His command was solid. He was in command. If you can command the fastball, it creates confidence, and he was very confident tonight." Holland threw 68 strikes and 35 balls, although he threw first-pitch strikes to just 12 of 23 hitters. "I felt my fastball was up more than I wanted," Holland said. "I threw too many pitches because of that. The next start, I've got to get it down." But the Athletics were sufficiently impressed. "He had a pretty good fastball that had real explosiveness on the end of it," said Oakland manager Bob Geren. "When the ball's reaching up out of the zone like that, it's hard to catch up with it. He also had a cutter-type slider that was working. Bottom line, he threw strikes." Holland also brought back his terrific pickoff move, and it bailed him out of a tough jam in the third. The Athletics had runners at the corners with one out when Holland picked off the speedy Rajai Davis at first. Oakland's rally died right there as Adam Rosales flied out to end the inning. Harrison, 1-1 with a 5.26 ERA in six starts, went on the DL retroactive to last Friday, the day after throwing five innings against the Royals. His next time out could easily be as a reliever. Harrison threw on flat ground Wednesday for the first time since his past outing, making 25 throws from a distance of 60 feet. Harrison said he felt no pain and the inflammation is gone from his arm. He could be activated as early as May 22, but club officials suggested it could easily be as a reliever. Harrison has never pitched out of the bullpen at the Major League level before, but admitted he would be open to that possibility. Much depends on Holland's success, but this was a commanding opening statement. "It's always going to be competitive, but I'm not going to think about that," Holland said. "I'm just going to go out and pitch, and let the results speak for themselves." In many seasons, the Rangers would have room for Holland and Harrison. They would also be pining for Hunter, who was supposed to be in the season-opening rotation but injured his rib cage in Spring Training. He is now stuck in Oklahoma City while the Major League rotation rolls on. There remains some concern about Scott Feldman, but the rotation still has a 3.12 ERA during this 12-game stretch and Rangers starters are now 11-7 with a 3.64 ERA for the season. Seven blown saves have kept the won-loss record from looking prettier, but it's still a tough rotation to crack.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.