Rangers-Blue Jays Preview
A quality start may not seem like all that much for a major leaguer pitcher to be proud of, but it carries some weight for Derek Holland considering how far he's come.
A rough 2015 seems to be in the rear view for the Texas Rangers left-hander, who is coming off a solid outing ahead of facing the Toronto Blue Jays in Thursday night's finale of a four-game series at Rogers Centre.
Holland (3-1, 2.48 ERA) pitched the home opener for Texas (15-13) last year and lasted one inning before a shoulder injury sidelined him until August.
Once he returned, things were inconsistent with a 4-3 mark and 4.84 ERA over a nine-start stretch that featured some outstanding work, including a three-hit shutout against Baltimore on Aug. 30 and three other quality outings.
"Thank God it's over," Holland told MLB's website of his tumultuous 2015. "I was miserable. It was a lonely time. I'm definitely happy that changed."
And change it has after Holland put in his third quality outing in five starts with six scoreless innings in a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. He allowed four hits, no walks and kept the ball in the yard for the third time this season.
Opposing teams are batting just .206 against him.
"I'm continuing to improve and attack the zone, work on my first-pitch strikes and today I thought I made some good progress there," said Holland, whose work has helped the Rangers to an AL-leading 20 quality starts.
He is 3-2 with a 5.44 ERA in seven career starts against the Blue Jays, but his numbers improve greatly when you look at his four most recent outings in the series. Beginning with a four-hit shutout at Toronto on July 30, 2011, Holland has gone 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA in those four starts with a .241 opponent batting average.
Jose Bautista (4 for 20 with six Ks) has struggled against Holland, but Josh Donaldson (6 for 20) and Edwin Encarnacion (5 for 15) have had some success with each hitting two homers.
The Blue Jays (14-15) are also getting their share of quality starts and are just behind the Rangers with 19 - five of them coming from left-hander J.A. Happ (3-0, 2.76), which ties a large group for the major league lead.
Happ worked 6 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay on Saturday and was an out away from getting out of the seventh with a 3-2 lead before Logan Forsythe homered to tie a game the Rays went on to win with a walkoff single.
Since a four-start losing streak last June, Happ has gone 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA over his previous 21 outings.
He is 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his previous three starts against the Rangers, who battered him for seven runs - five earned - in just 2 2/3 innings in his first career outing against them in May 2011. Prince Fielder (9 for 25 with four doubles) has the most experience against Happ among Texas batters.
After Russell Martin singled home the winning run in the ninth of Wednesday's 4-3 victory, the Blue Jays are in position to win a fourth straight home series against Texas. The Rangers are now 5-8 on the road and have lost six of their past seven away from home.
"We've got to find a way to dig deep and find a little resilience here," manager Jeff Banister said.