Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Derek Holland

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Cliff Lee’s departure left a huge hole in the Rangers’ rotation and they signed rehabbing former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb in the hopes he could fill the void if healthy, but 24-year-old left-hander Derek Holland emerging as a front-line starter is the more likely way for Texas to forget all about Lee.

Holland was slowed by a knee injury last spring and began the season in the minors, but earned a call-up in mid-May by posting a 0.93 ERA and 37/7 K/BB ratio in six starts at Triple-A. He pitched well through three starts, but then looked nothing like his usual self against the Twins on May 30 and missed the next two months with a shoulder injury.

Holland returned from the disabled list in mid-August and threw 38 innings down the stretch, finishing with a 4.08 ERA, .247 opponents’ batting average, and 54/24 K/BB ratio in 57 innings overall. Toss in his 1.83 ERA and 85/27 K/BB ratio in 93 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and it’s easy to see the young southpaw’s star potential. His fastball averaged 92 miles per hour last season and Holland’s low-80s slider is his best pitch, with a solid changeup giving him the repertoire to thrive as a starter long term.

Being a fly-ball pitcher in Texas’ power-inflating ballpark works against Holland, but he misses enough bats and throws enough strikes to succeed even while serving up some long balls. Counting on Holland to truly replace Lee is obviously wishful thinking, particularly at age 24 and with just 31 career starts under his belt, but he has the ability to emerge as one of the top left-handed starters in the league and looks capable of taking the first big step this season.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana, Colby Rasmus, Justin Upton, and Brandon Morrow.

Clayton Kershaw struggles with control, walks six Marlins

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Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw entered Wednesday night’s start against the Marlins without having issued a walk in his previous three starts. In fact, his last walk came on April 3 when he issued a free pass to Paul Goldschmidt with the bases empty and two outs in the bottom of the first inning. All told, Kershaw was on a streak of 26 walk-less innings before he took the mound at home to take on the Marlins.

Kershaw started off Wednesday in character, striking out the side in the first inning. He issued a walk in a tough second inning, but escaped without allowing a run. Kershaw walked two more in the third and again danced out of danger. In the fourth, Kershaw walked Lewis Brinson to load the bases with no outs and — you guessed it — didn’t end up allowing a run. His errant control finally came back to bite him in the fifth when Kershaw issued back-to-back two-out walks, then served up a three-run home run to Miguel Rojas down the left field line. His night was done when he completed the inning. Five innings, three runs, five hits, six walks, seven strikeouts, 112 pitches.

The six walks Kershaw issued over five innings marked his first six-walk outing since April 7, 2010 when he issued six free passes to the Pirates in 4 2/3 innings. The only other time he walked as many was on August 3, 2009 against the Brewers in a four-plus inning outing. Kershaw hasn’t even walked five batters in an outing recently — the last time was September 23, 2012 against the Reds.