It wasn't so very long ago -- just less than a fortnight ago, in fact -- that Derek Holland suffered the ultimate indignity of being forcefully yanked from a home start against the Marlins after having yielded five earned runs while recording just two outs. There was a brief but spirited debate that ensued within the blogosphere over what should be done with him, and whether the Rangers should exercise their newly obtained ability to swap Holland out of the rotation for Tommy Hunter or Scott Feldman after his problems in the couple of weeks leading up to his July 2nd meltdown. Oh, yeah, he got the rare sincere vote of confidence from management, but even his most fervent supporters knew do-or-die time was fast approaching.
And then just as your confidence develops a few hairline cracks, just as you feel your patience beginning to wear thin, just as you resume contemplating if/when he's really going to figure it out ... well, he goes out and does something like this. Something that hasn't been done by a player wearing a Rangers uniform in nearly 28 years, even. There are but a select few pitchers in the entire history of this franchise who have tossed back-to-back complete-game shutouts (including Ferguson Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, and one other, and Holland has now joined their company by means of some really filthy pitching over the last 10 days, with a composite pitching line that reads thusly: 18.0 IP, 9 H, 0 ER, 15 K, 3 BB, and 67.5 percent strikes.
Yeah, it's been compiled against two offenses that are treading on historically inept ground in Oakland and Seattle. You can certainly keep that in mind when you're evaluating the raw results, but don't discount the performance out of hand on that basis. A healthy number of players that we consider to be good by whatever standards we measure them against would look decidedly less good if you significantly penalized their performance against bad opponents.
And if you stuck around last night to evaluate the process that led to those results with your own eyes, you'd know this wasn't some bizarre fluke borne solely from Holland's good fortune in facing a bad offense in a pitcher's park. Holland was a monster, serving practically nothing up over the middle of the plate (visual evidence here -- seriously, take a good, hard, long look at that), consistently burying his breaking offerings on the corners, sustaining the mid-90s punch into triple-digit pitch territory, yielding not a single "well-hit ball" all night (as determined by ESPN.com's Inside Edge scouting service) while taking a perfect game into the sixth inning, toppling Charlie Hough's claim to being the last Rangers pitcher to throw consecutive shutouts (in Sept. 1983) ... I really don't know what else to say about it. Maybe there really isn't much else to say about it.
Meanwhile, a couple of hours after Holland was done obliterating the nearly-finished Mariners, FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi dropped a strange report indicating that the Rangers had "checked in" with the Marlins on their pitching, but that no names had been exchanged and that talks were not very far along. Anibal Sanchez is the potential blinding gem of this summer's trade market, and if the Rangers' M.O. in previous trade talks for upper-tier to front-line pitching is any indication, Holland would likely be featured front and center in any talks involving Sanchez, though assuredly not on closer Leo Nunez and perhaps not on Ricky Nolasco. I can't speak to whether I'd include Holland in a deal for Sanchez without knowing the rest of the trade's hypothetical framework, but it's certainly becoming a more debatable proposition.
All that said, we've been down this road before. We've been led to believe that Holland was on the cusp of developing into his newer, improved, evolved form, and he didn't sustain it. We remember those two classic efforts right around the 2009 trade deadline where we began to convince ourselves that the evolution was imminent, but what we don't recall so easily are the massive struggles that closely followed. He's definitely saying all of the right things right now about recalibrating his focus and incorporating outside advice and maturing, and perhaps this, finally, is the moment where he has turned the corner as a major league pitcher ... but for today, at least, I'm setting that aside and simply enjoying what he's given the Rangers of late. Nothing more. Nothing less.