How new Detroit Tigers pitcher Derek Holland plans to make the most of his latest shot

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Derek Holland‘s fastball read 95 mph on the scoreboard Sunday at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“That baby was cooking today,” Holland said after the Detroit Tigers’ 10-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. “It was feeling good.”

His fastball? Or the radar gun?

Either way, the 34-year-old — who signed a minor-league deal with a nonroster invitation to camp — thought his velocity was “where it needed to be” while pitching the third inning of the Tigers’ Grapefruit League opener. He was a starter for most of his 12-year MLB career, but the Tigers think he best fits as a long reliever.

They’re going to stretch him out (continuously increasing his pitch count) before making a final decision on his role.

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“I felt everything was good,” Holland said. “Coming here and getting this opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. … I felt everything was under control, where it needed to be velo-wise on all of the pitches.”

Last year, Holland’s two-seam fastball and four-seam fastball averaged 92.3 mph and 92.1 mph, respectively.

On Sunday, the radar gun suggested he went above 93 mph nine times, maxing out at 94.9 mph. He punched out Scott Kingery with a curveball, got Alec Bohm to ground out and caught C.J. Chatham looking on a two-seamer that painted in the corner at the top of the zone.

He gave up a single to Jeff Mathis, and Travis Jankowski reached because of an error by shortstop Willi Castro.

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“I’m going to continue to improve,” Holland said. “Saw a few things I wasn’t really pleased with, but at the same time, you got the results that were needed. I’m happy about that.”

Chances of making the team

For three of the last four years, Holland has received nonroster invites to spring training, rather than major-league contracts. He was first put in this situation in 2018, when he joined the San Francisco Giants.

Injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija opened the door for him to pitch in the majors. The next year, he re-signed with a guaranteed one-year, $6.5 million deal — not as much pressure.

But leading up to the 2020 season, the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates picked up his tab, offering him a minor-league contract. He pitched 12 games last year, starting five of those contests, with a 6.86 ERA.

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Holland is currently trying to break camp with the Tigers. He agreed to the minor-league agreement in late January.

“It’s the same mentality,” Holland said. “Nothing is given to us. Even if I had a big-league deal, it doesn’t matter. I would still have to have the same emotions and mindset of competing for a job.”

For Holland to make the Opening Day roster, there are a few possibilities to consider involving left-handed long relievers Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander — all but guaranteed to make the team.

And the team isn’t going to carry three lefty long relievers in the bullpen.

Yet if Norris moves into the starting rotation, the door opens for Holland to sneak in.

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The same is true for Alexander, who has started games in the past. If he needs to be in the rotation early in the season, Holland’s odds of being part of the major-league team are immensely boosted. It seems at this point the Tigers would be more likely to make Alexander a starter in an emergency than Norris.

And an eight-man bullpen, depending on how things shake out, should also help Holland in his pursuit.

“We still got to continue to go out there and keep working on things fundamentally,” Holland said. “With the pitching side, we got to continue to be aggressive. And for myself, this is just a great opportunity to be back out there.”

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Culture shock

There’s something different about the Tigers, and it makes Holland even more pumped up to battle for a position. The difference, he explained, is manager AJ Hinch.

“A lot of these guys, even myself, we’re ready to go through a wall for him,” Holland said. “The chemistry has been, I’m not kidding, electric since day one.”

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Holland has played for five teams in his career: the Texas Rangers (2009-16), Chicago White Sox (2017), Giants (2018-19), Chicago Cubs (2019) and Pirates (2020).

He is quickly learning just how much impact the new Tigers’ manager will have on the organization.

“AJ’s got this clubhouse right where it needs to be,” Holland said. “I mean, (Spencer Torkelson) took the spill at first base, and they got it on camera. We had a good joke about that. That’s the main thing.

“If you look at a lot of these winning clubs, they do a good job of keeping things loose, keeping it enjoyable. Have fun while you’re out there. AJ has us in the right path.”

Signing Hutchison

The Tigers signed right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract, the team announced Sunday. He will join the minicamp in Lakeland.

The 30-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018, when he logged a 6.75 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 26 walks in 42⅔ innings between the Phillies and Rangers.

Hutchison has five years of MLB experience for the Toronto Blue Jays (2012, 2014-16), Pirates (2016), Phillies (2018) and Rangers (2018). He’s produced a career 5.10 ERA in 460⅓ innings and made 79 starts in 98 appearances.

He pitched for the Milwaukee Milkmen in the American Association, an independent league, last season. He had a 4.09 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 22 innings (six starts).

The team also announced a minor-league contract with right-hander Ricardo Pinto. He had a 6.17 ERA, 112 strikeouts and 90 walks in 162 innings across 30 games in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2020.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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