SURPRISE! — Ariz. Left-hander Derek Holland got the start for the Texas Rangers in first game of the Cactus League season Friday. It kind of looked like Holland's first day, too.
It was Holland's first time working with new catcher A.J. Pierzynski in a game, and there were a couple of bugs. It was Holland's first post-appearance interview, inside the Rangers' clubhouse during what ended in a 5-5 tie against the Kansas City Royals. It also was Holland's first funny T-shirt of the 2013 season, and it had a bad word on it, an obscenity not quite covered by the gauze wrap around Holland's chest that held the ice on his shoulder in place. The TV crew filming the interview worried, after the fact, about possibly putting the shirt's R-rated message on the 10 o'clock news. Did they shoot him from the neck up or lower? We'll find out. It's spring training for everyone!
Holland said he pitched OK, allowing an earned run and six hits (all singles) over three innings. He threw 38 of 54 pitches for strikes.
"They weren't hitting the ball very solid," Holland said. You got to tip your hat to 'em; they got some well-placed hits. But at the same time, I thought it was a good performance. A good start, I should say."
Some of Kansas City's success came on 0-2 counts, which Holland wants to work on. However he can improve in the second season of his $28.5 million contract extension, he wants to do it.
"Like I said, first time out there," Holland said. "I was a little anxious. Caught a little too much plate on a couple of guys. But the thought process, and everything, was there."
Working with Pierzynski, who came over from the White Sox in free agency, Holland said they "screwed up our signals a couple of times. He's not used to the sequence that I want to have. It's the first time out. But he does a great job out there. Very vocal, too. We were talking in the dugout a lot. He's definitely a solid catcher back there."
Holland went an extra inning (pitchers usually start with two innings in their spring debut) because he'll be headed to the U.S. camp for the World Baseball Classic soon. The disturbance in the usual routine of camp is a source of consternation throughout the the league, and the extra inning Holland pitched was a source of much discussion during the interview.
"I think my next outing might be four (innings)," said Holland, who came into camp a little ahead of schedule with the WBC in mind. "It's just getting me a step ahead of where I should be."
So there might be a benefit to Holland participating in the WBC? Perhaps.
"I'm working forward and I'll be able to use all of my pitches [sooner]. I think that's the big thing," Holland said. "I'll be ahead compared to [other seasons] because I'm going out there using all of my pitches. If that makes sense."
Maybe. Holland thought again.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm only one inning ahead of [Matt Harrison], or [Alexi] Ogando, or any of those guys. I don't really feel like I'm that far ahead of anybody."
He might be ahead of Ogando, who allowed three runs, two hits (including a home run by Adam Moore) along with two walks and a hit batter. That's a lot of stuff for eight batters faced.
Ogando told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News that he couldn't find the plate, and, as a result, bad things happened.
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But, as Holland said. It's the first time out. And isn't it great to have baseball back?
(Note: There's not really an exclamation point in the town's name, but I can't not write "Surprise!" at least once.)
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