Last night started well, ended on an even higher note, and turned to be your standard-fare nice, boring Rangers win, with a few interesting data points -- namely, that every Rangers starter produced at least one hit -- and a few interesting moments. Otherwise, though, it was fairly nondescript, and I'm a little too out of it to try and force a game narrative that isn't there.
There were a few extremely unnerving minutes during the middle innings, though, as Derek Holland's velocity -- which had been a steady 92-93 mph near the beginning of the game -- began to noticeably dip near the end of the fifth inning, and threatened to bottom out as he labored through the first couple of batters of the sixth inning. He was getting close to the 95-100 pitch milestone by that juncture, but that alone didn't account for his sudden inability to get above 87-88 mph with the fastball, and, as you might expect, the Twittersphere lit up immediately with dreading speculation on his health. Large drops in velocity aren't always harbingers of doom, but they almost always set your mind on edge with worst-case fears about an impending UCL or labrum problem.
[* During the peak of the Holland hand-wringing last night, the Ticket's David Newbury reminded me of that bizarre Holland start on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball a couple of years ago, when Holland suddenly and inexplicably came out of the gates with an 86-87 mph fastball, and ended up being yanked after recording just three outs once it became painfully and unmistakably apparent that he had absolutely nothing in his bag. He landed on the disabled list the following day with left shoulder inflammation and would not return for two and a half months, and while the in-game timing of the velocity drop was markedly different in this case, there was nevertheless a troubling precedent in his past.]
Holland ended up being knocked out after just 5.1 innings of three-run ball last night, and, quite frankly, he was fortunate to escape with that little damage to his ERA, given that he allowed seven hits, two walks, and two homers while only mustering two punchouts. It just wasn't a good look, particularly since it evoked strong memories of Rich Harden exerting maximum effort just to sustain his velocity in the high-80s during his one-year stint in Texas, and it was clear from his body language in the dugout that not all was well with the typically jovial Holland:
So, we found ourselves waiting for some kind of confirmation on what exactly it was that ailed him ... and then we got our answer:
The dramatic dip in velocity that Derek Holland experienced in the sixth inning Tuesday night was related to a lingering stomach virus that has caused the left-hander to lose 10 to 15 pounds.
Holland has been affected by the illness since the Rangers' three-game series last month at Seattle, and his weight has dropped from 217 pounds to 202. He has been prescribed medicine and is eating regularly.
"I don't feel anything stomach-wise when I'm out there," Holland said. "It's more of a weakness thing. I've just got to keep plugging away and get that weight back and it'll be OK. I'm not freaking out or anything. ... It kind of was creeping on me. In the middle of the fifth is when it really started kicking in."
So, following along the timeline, Holland has been beset by a stomach ailment ever since that May 21st-23rd window, spanning one excellent start at home against the Blue Jays, one utterly horrific start at home against the sad-sack Mariners, and last night's incredibly underwhelming effort in Oakland. It's at least conceivable that he hit some sort of illness-induced wall in that start against Seattle, seeing as how he looked excellent in his first inning of work and then turned into a complete disaster in the second inning, but I'm a bit hesitant to start ascribing all of his struggles in that start to his physical malaise.
It's also worth noting that Holland made absolutely no mention of a stomach virus or any physical problems while attempting to explain how the Mariners destroyed him. I'm not sure whether that was more about him trying not to make excuses for his lacking performance (C.J. Wilson famously took a beating from both the fans and the media when they perceived such excuses, including one memorable post-game rant from Steve Busby last July), or if his illness genuinely didn't affect him. In any event, we've got some closure on this front, and some assurances that Holland's arm is still in proper working order, and another Rangers victory to pad their win total, so it's all good.