Holland believes Classic will give him an edge
Lefty, who will start Texas' spring opener, preparing to pitch for Team USA
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland is scheduled to start for the Rangers on Friday at 2:05 p.m. CT against the Royals in the first game this spring. The plan is for Holland to throw 50 pitches over three innings.
He is scheduled to start one more game with the Rangers on Feb. 28 against the Indians, and then it's off to a new assignment. Holland is on the Team USA staff for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, along with R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and others.
"Obviously representing my country means a lot, but the main thing is this gives me a slight edge to get ready for the regular season," Holland said. "I'm getting prepared faster with more work and more innings, getting ahead of my normal schedule."
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Normally, starting pitchers throw approximately 30 pitches in their first spring outing and then work up in increments of 15 pitches. So throwing 50 pitches on Friday would put Holland one start ahead of the rest of the staff.
But after he joins Team USA on March 2, Holland's work schedule will not be meticulously mapped out by Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. Instead, it will be dictated by what happens during the international tournament.
Right now, Holland has been told he'll pitch against Canada on March 10 at Chase Field. The United States is in Pool D, which also includes Mexico and Italy. The top two teams from the pool advance to the second round, which will be held March 12-16 in Miami. The championship round will be March 17-19 in San Francisco.
"How about that for a flight schedule," Holland said.
Team USA was knocked out in the second round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. They reached the championship round in 2009 before losing to Japan in the semifinals. So there is no telling when Holland will return to the Rangers, but he should get at least one or two more starts in Spring Training before the regular season begins. He will also get work in Team USA exhibition games leading up to the tournament.
Holland started playing catch this offseason right after Thanksgiving and ramped up his throwing program later in December when he found out he had been selected to play for Team USA.
"It's a huge honor to pitch for Team USA. I'm not only representing the USA, but the Rangers," Holland said. "In order to succeed for Team USA, I have to have everything sharp and ready to go. If I do that, I'll be ready for the regular season."
Most starters shoot for about 20-25 innings in Spring Training over a combination of the Cactus League, B team, Minor League and intrasquad games. Holland should get seven innings before joining Team USA, but it's unknown how much he'll get in the tournament. Roy Oswalt led the United States with 11 1/3 innings in 2009, while Ted Lilly pitched 6 1/3 and Jake Peavy pitched five.
Lily, pitching for the Cubs, had the best season of those three in 2009. He went 2-2 with a 3.80 ERA in five starts in April, and 12-9 with a 3.10 ERA in 27 starts and 177 innings on the season while missing four weeks from July 21 to Aug. 17 with shoulder inflammation.
Oswalt was 0-2 with a 3.94 ERA in five starts in April in 2009, and 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts and 181 1/3 innings before being shut down in September because of back problems. Peavy was 2-3 with a 5.74 in April, and 9-6 with a 3.45 ERA on the season while missing over three months because of an ankle injury.
General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers are more nervous about pitchers leaving camp and "stepping on the gas" for the World Baseball Classic. But pitchers are limited in their work by pitch-count rules and Team USA's pitching coach is Greg Maddux, who works as a special assistant for the Rangers.
"It helps that we have good communication with his pitching coach," Daniels said.
While Holland has eagerly embraced the idea of pitching for Team USA, others passed on the chance, including Justin Verlander and Andy Pettitte. Matt Harrison was also asked but decided against it after pitching 213 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season.
"My reason was pretty much the innings I threw last year," Harrison said. "I know you've got to get ramped up for the WBC, and I didn't want to take the chance of going too fast and getting injured. It was an honor to be asked, but I felt it was not the right time."
Holland only pitched 175 1/3 innings for the Rangers in 2012 after missing a month in the middle of the season because of the effects of his stomach virus. Mike Maddux said pitching in the World Baseball Classic could be good for Holland.
"If you're going to be at the top of the heap, this is an opportunity to join the big boys and play for big stakes," Maddux said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.