BALTIMORE -- Any lingering Spring Training anxiety or hysteria over the back end of the Rangers' rotation continues to fade in the cool April air.Derek Holland was the latest to ease such overwrought fears, pitching six innings on Sunday afternoon as the Rangers went to 8-1 on the new season with a 3-0 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards. A fourth-inning home run by Adrian Beltre and a two-run shot by Ian Kinsler in the seventh were the big hits that allowed the Rangers to take two of three from the Orioles this weekend. This matches 1989 for the best nine-game start in franchise history. Holland's performance followed an outstanding effort by Matt Harrison on Saturday, and the Rangers' two young left-handers have combined to win their first four starts of the season.
"They're doing a great job," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "They have been able to get into some situations that were tough and pitch their way out of it. That is what pitching is all about. They are showing their growth and maturity."
There is still much pitching to be done but add Alexi Ogando's six scoreless innings against the Mariners last Tuesday, and the three pitchers at the back end of the Rangers' rotation are 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA in five starts. They had a 5.02 ERA in Spring Training."It's tough to follow Harrison," Holland said. "He has been outstanding, doing his thing, and you've got to stay right there with him and build on it. You just go out and battle and do what you have to do to compete against the other team."
The weekend performances of the two young left-handers impressed the opposing club, as well.
"You look at Harrison and Holland -- at one time they were six, seven or eight on their depth chart," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "A lot of depth in their pitching, and that's why they were American League champions last season. They run a lot of good arms out there at you."
Holland, battling Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, went six innings and 110 pitches, allowing eight baserunners on five hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Seven of the eight reached base with two outs but none scored."I liked the way he was able to pitch around trouble," Washington said. "He got into some situations where a big base hit would have turned the game around. I always say that all pitchers get into trouble, but the good ones get out of trouble. He kept making his pitches. He didn't lose his cool. He stayed calm and focused."
The Orioles were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and Rangers opponents are 5-for-33 (.152) in those situations over nine games. That includes Neftali Feliz getting pinch-hitter Luke Scott to fly out with two on and two out in the eighth. Feliz also forced Nick Markakis to line out to end the game with Felix Pie on second base. In doing so, Feliz earned his third save.The Orioles had a couple of two-out chances against Holland early, but he was able to get out of them by handling Mark Reynolds, a power-hitting right-handed hitter who is tough on left-handers. "I put myself in those situations by making too many pitches," Holland said. "The main thing is working on getting ahead of hitters and not falling behind -- keep my guard up, keep going after hitters and not give in."
Reynolds entered the game with 36 career home runs and a .523 slugging percentage in 505 career at-bats against left-handers. But, after a pair of two-out singles by Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, he struck out against Holland in the first.In the third, Lee walked and Guerrero doubled, putting runners on second and third. This time, Holland got Reynolds on a grounder to third to end the threat. Reynolds was 5-for-7 with runners in scoring position coming into the game. The Orioles mounted another two-out rally in the fifth, beginning with a single by Markakis. Lee followed with a double into the left-field corner, but Josh Hamilton dug it out quickly and Markakis was stopped at third by third-base coach John Russell. Markakis remained there even though shortstop Andres Blanco's throw bounced past catcher Yorvit Torrealba, because Holland was backing up on the play. "[Markakis] would have been out with a good throw," Showalter said. "If we all knew where the throw was going to end up on the ensuing [relay], it would be different, but we don't. He's out with a pretty easy throw. He's out by a large margin. We had the right people up in some situations. Just got to tip your hat to Holland."
That left runners on second and third with Guerrero up, Reynolds on-deck and pitching coach Mike Maddux on the way to the mound. Guerrero to that point was 2-for-2 off Holland, while Reynolds had failed twice in a row. But even with first base open, Holland went after Guerrero and got him to hit a first-pitch, 94-mph fastball high in the air in right field for an inning-ending fly."I didn't want to give him anything good to hit," Holland said. "He's a great hitter. You have to make him hit your pitch. It was a fastball down and in. I felt I had good command of my fastball today. I felt I had good command of all my pitches."
Washington said that he never planned on walking Guerrero, who was the Rangers' designated hitter during their run to the World Series in 2010.
"We were going to pitch around him and see if he would chase something," Washington said. "He swung at the first pitch and popped it up."
Guthrie was almost as good as Holland, but Beltre gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth by hitting a 2-2 cut fastball over the left-field wall. It was his third home run of the season and second of the three-game series against the Orioles.The Rangers added two more in the sixth with the first big two-out hit of the afternoon. Kinsler delivered it with a two-run home run off reliever Jim Johnson. Torrealba reached third with one out in the inning on a single, wild pitch and sacrifice, but Julio Borbon left him there with a grounder to short. Kinsler prevented the Rangers from wasting the threat the way the Orioles did against Holland.
"In the scheme of things, one run would have been enough," Kinsler said. "But it was nice to put up a couple extra runs for our pitchers late in the game like that."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.