Tigers' Derek Holland on battling couch coaches, his mystery injury and 1,200 strikeouts
Detroit — It was jokingly suggested to Tigers lefty Derek Holland that the root cause of his mysterious shoulder injury might’ve been extensive Call of Duty action. Fans of a certain vintage are well aware of the team’s history with video game injuries (Joel Zumaya).
And Holland plays a fair bit. Whether he’s pitching well or struggling, whether the team won or lost, Holland a lot of nights will livestream video games and interact with his fans and followers.
“It is funny to hear people,” Holland said. “You have a bad game, go home and I get on and stream. It’s like 11 p.m. and people are like, ‘Shouldn’t you be practicing?’ Let’s not be dumb, OK? I can’t go out and practice 24/7. At some point my arm has to rest, too.
“People don’t understand that and it cracks me up.”
Holland was just getting warmed up, humorously, to the subject of couch coaches.
“They’ve never experienced this. They don’t know any of this,” he said. “All of a sudden, here I am playing video games, interacting with fans, minding my own business and I get, ‘You should be out there practicing, Derek. You’ve got a 15 ERA.’ Like, no (kidding). You think I don’t know that? Let’s be real.
“There’s so many couch coaches out there.”
Holland missed 24 days with a shoulder (deltoid) strain. After two rehab appearances at Toledo, he returned to the mound at Comerica Park on Tuesday and struck out the side in the ninth. The first one was the 1,200th of his career.
“The only reason I knew that is because Miggy (Cabrera) took the ball and threw it into our dugout,” Holland said. “And then he just started chirping at me the whole inning. Just Miggy being Miggy.”
Holland’s sinker, like it was in spring training, was sitting at 94 mph and hitting 95. In the outings leading up to the injury, his velocity had dipped back down to 90-91.
“It’s still mind-boggling,” he said of the injury. “I still don’t know (how it happened). When an injury happens, we generally know what the cause may be. I’m OK when an injury happens. I can accept it. But the thing that pissed me off the most was not knowing what caused it.”
He pitched a scoreless inning in Yankee Stadium on May 1. He threw the next day on the side and still felt fine. But when he went to loosen up before the first game at Fenway Park, he felt the shoulder grab at his release point.
"Everything is good now," he said. "We can eliminate that now."
While Holland was on the injured list, he dived into his mechanics and his delivery and made a few alterations.
“With my back foot, I would come up on my toes so my heel was off the ground causing me to lift myself up then come down and try to go,” he said. “As opposed to last night where my head stayed still and my body stayed on the same plane.
“I know the velocity is going to be there and everything is going to take off again.”
With Holland back, the Tigers have four lefties and five right-handers in the bullpen, giving manager AJ Hinch a lot of options.
“Our bullpen has some length in it now,” Hinch said. “Derek is a pro. He can bring a lot, as long as he’s healthy and his stuff is up like it was yesterday.”
Now if he could just get the trolls off his back.
"I have a kid that has hit me up on Twitter trying to tell me how I should be pitching," Holland said, shaking his head. "With zero experience of what's going on. They need to bring back that (television show) Average Joes vs. The Pros so they can get themselves embarrassed.
"Sorry we got sidetracked, but we're just dropping knowledge bombs for people who think they know."
Skubal's new toy
Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal threw only 10 knuckle-curveballs Tuesday against the Indians, but it was enough to open his eyes to the possibilities of that pitch in his arsenal.
“That’s a pitch I am getting more confident in,” he said, after he gave up two runs and struck out nine in five innings. “It’s a pitch I am understanding how to use more.”
He got Jose Ramirez off balance with it in the third inning. He started the at-bat with a 74-mph curve, then threw three straight mid-90s fastballs. With the count 2-2, he came back with the curve and Ramirez was way out in front and popped weakly to second.
Skubal stole strike one to the next hitter, Jordan Luplow, looking at another curveball. In the fourth inning he got a one-pitch ground out from Owen Miller with it and then in the fifth, got a called strike one on Cesar Hernandez, which set up a swinging strikeout with a slider.
He had a velocity range between 70 and 77 mph on the knuckle-curve and got three swings-and-misses, four called strikes, one foul ball and two soft-struck outs with the 10 he threw.
“I'm learning when to use it to freeze a guy, when to steal a strike and when to throw it for soft contact,” Skubal said. “I think using it more often can be big for me. I’m getting more comfortable throwing that pitch.”
Around the horn
Akil Baddoo, after enduring a 4-for-46 skid, went into the game Wednesday hitting .303 in May with 10 walks. He notched his fourth triple Tuesday night, which leads the American League and is second in baseball. Baddoo is the first Tigers rookie to have four triples in his first 35 games since Ramon Santiago in 2002.
Indians at Tigers
► First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► RHP Shane Bieber (4-3, 3.32), Indians: A rematch from Opening Day when Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young winner who is leading the league with 98 strikeouts in 65 innings, punched out 12 Tigers but ended up being outdueled in a 3-2 loss.
► LHP Matthew Boyd (2-5, 3.08), Tigers: He’s pitched in some bad luck (and sloppy defense) in his last two outings. He’s given up 10 runs (nine earned) in his last 11 innings and opponents are hitting .304 off him.