Why Holland’s Start Tuesday Night Was Important

Texas Rangers v Cincinnati Reds

Courtesy: Getty Images

This was one of the most important starts in Derek Holland’s career, just as important as all those postseason and World Series starts.

The Texas Rangers lefty returned from the disabled list Tuesday night in Cincinnati after missing time with left shoulder inflammation.  So what could you expect from Holland, the good or the bad?

Actually, Holland looked good in his first start since landing on the D.L. in June. The first hitter he faced, speedy Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton, lined a shot back to the mound, which Holland caught thanks to a quick reaction. Nice way to get the nerves in check.

After that he was on cruise control with his stuff and his pitch management. Holland’s fastball averaged in the low 90’s but he was able to change speeds effectively with his off-speed stuff, making his fastball look more intimidating. The movement on his pitches was impressive, with his stuff moving breaking low in the zone instead of hanging over the plate, an issue that has haunted Holland over the years.

The only negative was issuing the leadoff walk in the sixth that would later cost him as Joey Votto eventually cashed in with the RBI single. Holland worked out of the inning allowing only the one run. He finished with six innings in the books, allowing four hits with five strikeouts in the 3-0 loss to the Reds. Sure it was a loss, but the outing Holland turned in was nothing but positive for the Rangers.

Now one major concern when talking about Holland didn’t really involve health, at least not at first. It was consistency. In fact, inconsistency could possibly best explain Holland’s career in a Rangers uniform. He was a young lefty with “ace” written all over him. But there was the feeling that Holland didn’t take things seriously. How many talks do you remember seeing former manager Ron Washington give to Holland, both on the mound and in the dugout?

It seemed like Holland was turning the page and ready to become the dominant lefty everyone felt he could be. But then the injury issues started creeping up. He missed part of the 2014 season after tearing his knee playing with his dog. Then in 2015, Holland suffered a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season. He worked his way back just in time for the Rangers postseason run, but could never really get on track.

Its déjà vu for Holland as he now finds himself in the same situation this season with the Rangers on another postseason run and a trip to the World Series within site, which brings us back to Tuesday night against the Reds. The Rangers staff is currently Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. That’s about it. Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin have struggled following suite. The fifth spot has be a revolving door all season long. Texas desperately needs Holland to come back strong and provide some solid pitching behind both Hamels and Darvish because, frankly, the Rangers haven’t gotten that all season. It’s hard to win in the playoffs with just two pitchers. Not impossible, but very hard.

But there’s more incentive for Holland to finish up strong. The Rangers hold an option on him for next season, at a salary of $11 million. You wonder if they are willing to roll the dice and pick up that option on a pitcher who’s fought injuries the past three seasons, along with the inconsistency.

Holland will now have to put on a show from here on out. Tuesday night was a step in the right direction.

Written by C. James

A Different Mentality This Season for Mean Green

UNT Eagle

It’s not just the start of the 2016 season for North Texas, it’s also the start of a new era.

The football program has struggled over the years, but those dark days may finally be over. UNT brought in one of the brightest offensive minds in college football, Seth Littrell, to take over as head coach. Littrell helped turn the offense at North Carolina into one of the nation’s best last season. He now has the task of putting the Mean Green back on the college football map.

So is this considered a rebuilding project?

“It’s always a transition into the new system, coming in with a new coaching staff. Everybody has to build relationships and get on the same page,” said Littrell. “It doesn’t come overnight, it takes time.”

You wouldn’t think that a team coming off a 1-11 season would have a little “swag” but that appears to be the case in Denton. It showed during Media Day Monday at Apogee Stadium.

“The atmosphere is way different,” said wide receiver Terian Goree. “Our team has some swag, we feel like we can win. We all believe in what the coaches are saying. We are about to win this year.”

“The atmosphere is just way better,” added defensive end Jareid Combs. “Having the coaches around, the more energy we have, I feel like everyone has bought in. Everybody just feels more confident coming into this season. I know I especially do.”

Another new addition for the Mean Green is at the quarterback position. Alec Morris spent four seasons at Alabama as the number three quarterback on the depth chart and was on the Crimson Tide’s national championship teams in 2012 and 2015. The former Allen Eagles standout saw action in three games last season, but chose to leave Alabama and transfer to North Texas for a shot at more playing time.

The adjustment has been relatively smooth for Morris.

“It’s definitely nice to be back in Texas,” said Morris. “The guys when I got here in January were all really welcoming. I made a great group of friends. The whole team is pretty close. So for me, the adjustment wasn’t really too hard.”

North Texas opens up the 2016 season on September 3rd against cross-town rival SMU. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Apogee Stadium in Denton. Needless to say, the players and coaches are excited.

“It’s a game where the guys know a lot of the same players and played against each other in high school,” said Littrell. “But it doesn’t matter if it’s SMU or Bethune-Cookman or Florida or whoever it is, you ought to be excited about playing every game.”

There will be challenges along the way for the Mean Green, including the trip to Gainesville to face the Gators in mid-September before diving into conference play. North Texas is picked to finish last in Conference USA’s West Division. However, that’s not affecting the team’s mentality going into the season.

“We’ve just been out here working everyday trying to get better so we could have a good season this year,” said Goree.

Written by C. James

Confidence in Dyson as Rangers Closer

Minnesota Twins v Texas Rangers

Courtesy: Getty Images

How much confidence is there with Sam Dyson as the Texas Rangers closer?

Granted, Dyson has struggled of late with two blown saves in his last five chances. But let’s be fair and dig a little deeper into his performance this season.

Overall, the 28-year old reliever has converted 27 of 31 opportunities and is sixth the American League with 27 saves. Dyson had a Major League-best 10 saves in the month of June, one short of matching the club record for a month. He’s had saves in eight of his last 12 appearances.

There’s the good, now here’s the flip side of it.

Dyson has a tendency of making things interesting in the ninth. Saves don’t come easy, and as shown earlier, Dyson gets the job done more often than not. But many Rangers fans sometimes feel like breaking out the Maalox in the process.

One reason may be Dyson’s numbers against left-handed hitters going into Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, which are a little worrisome. Lefties are hitting .281 this season against Dyson, compared to right-handed hitters hitting .219 against the Rangers righty.

Some of those numbers are going to jump up a little bit after the Rangers’ 8-4 loss to the Rays Sunday afternoon. However, it wasn’t a save situation as the Rangers were already down two runs going into the bottom of the eighth. Dyson gave up a lead-off double to lefty Brad Miller, then left a fastball over the middle of the plate to righty Steven Souza Jr., who got all of it for a two-run homer that put the game out of reach.

Now if you are asking why the Rangers closer was in the game in a non-save situation; great question. That’s something the Rangers have done over the years, whether it was under Ron Washington or Jeff Banister. In fact, other teams in the majors also have a tendency of doing it, so it’s not  happening in Texas. Whether it’s the right move or not is very debatable.

In this instance, there could be a couple of reasons why. First of all, the feeling may have been to bring Dyson in to keep the deficit at two and give the Rangers a chance in the top of the ninth. Second, it gave Dyson an opportunity to get some work in and not go stale. Did it do more harm than good? That remains unclear at the moment.

Despite today’s outcome, what many like about Dyson is his bulldog mentality, which you need to have in order to close the door for the win. Remember last year’s Game 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS? Dyson did give up the go-ahead three-run homer to Jose Bautista (The Bat Flip Incident), but also got into a couple of altercations with Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowizki, which caused both benches to clear. Whether you agree with it or not, that was a result of Dyson not backing down. Got to respect that.

So if you are not sold on Dyson as the closer, what are the other options? The bullpen is solid with Jake Diekman, Keone Kela, Matt Bush, Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette to go along with Dyson. If Diekman moves to the closer role, you are left with four righties and one lefty (Alex Claudio), which could lead to matchup problems down the road. Kela and Bush could be closers in the future, because both bring the heat out of the pen. Those two are nice to have as a backup plan in case the wheels fall off.

Right now the role belongs to Dyson, and it’s worked for most of the season.

Written by C. James