from the cover athletic.com photo: San Francisco Giants pitcher Derek Holland throws to the Oakland A’s during Monday’s pre season game at AT&T Park in the second game of the Bay Bridge Series
By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Seven weeks after Derek Holland’s under-the-radar signing with the Giants as a non-roster invitee, the relationship between the club and the player has gotten quite serious.
Madison Bumgarner (and Jeff Samardzija) are on the shelf, and the 31-year old Holland is in the starting rotation. Given Holland’s recent history, this is quite a development, one the resurgent pitcher won’t take for granted.
“This is a great ballclub,” Holland said. “And I’m glad to be a part of it.”
After a 14-loss season (in 26 starts) with the White Sox in 2017, Holland was released. Signing with the Giants, he hoped, would give him an opportunity to stay in the majors as a reliever. But the Giants are plentiful in terms of options in their relief corps. Thanks to the imposing salary cap, all the opportunities–if any–would be in the club’s starting rotation. In fact, besides the still-too-green Tyler Beede and Chris Heston, nearly three years removed from his June 2015 no-hitter, the Giants possessed few options other than Holland.
So Holland took the ball and ran with it. In five spring appearances, Holland won once and got his ERA under control after it hit 6.20 for 2017. With 18 strikeouts in 15 innings, Holland earned a look for a rotation spot. The Giants were forced to overlook Holland’s four homers allowed, and his 17 hits allowed in 15 innings didn’t seem so bad when compared to Matt Moore of 2017, or the possibility of signing aging, ageless one, Bartolo Colon.
So when Bumgarner’s bone in his hand was broken by a liner through the box, and Samardzija was declared out of at least the first two starts of his season, Holland got a spot. But the Giants can’t be sure what they’re getting: Holland’s best year was 16 wins in 2011, and he missed most of both 2014 and 2015 with injuries. The 31-year old stayed healthy in 2017, but his ERA soared.
“Despite getting released, I started off really well,” Holland explained. “I made every start.”
Last April, Holland won three games. Then two in May, and only one win in June. In June and July, the starter lost five games both months. Then after a relief appearance in September, Holland was granted his unconditional release. A similiar start for the Giants would be nice, the rest of Holland’s 2017 would be too much of a reminder of what they got from Moore, who lost 15 times.
The difference? 2017 was rough on Moore psychologically, and it sometimes showed. Holland’s a much lighter personality, and the expectations for him aren’t as high. That atmosphere could put the veteran in better position to succeed. The Giants certainly hope so.
On Monday, in his final tune-up against the A’s, Holland pitched five innings and allowed four hits. Two of those four hits were solo shots for Mark Canha and Matt Chapman, but Moore kept the Giants in the game, and limited the traffic on the basepaths.
“He did a nice job,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I really think he’s set to go, and throw 100 pitches.”