PEORIA, Ariz. - Derek Holland didn't know much about the young Giants starters when he signed up to come to camp at Scottsdale Stadium. Because the White Sox faced the National League West last season, Holland had studied some film of hitters facing fellow lefty Ty Blach, but that was about it.
He has spent a month getting to know the competition, and he likes what he's seen. Most of all, he likes the fact that the competition is fierce but the team is close-knit.
"There's not one guy saying, ‘Hey, I hope you suck today,'" he joked.
Holland hasn't on his days. Because Johnny Cueto pitched at minor league camp in the morning, Holland started against the Mariners at night. He allowed just a solo homer in 3 1/3 innings, striking out four. In 11 innings this spring, Holland has allowed four runs and struck out 13.
"You've got a pro out there that's showing good stuff, too," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's commanding the ball well. You saw him in traffic and he's got good poise out there. He knows what he's doing, so he's in the mix."
Holland, 31, has been a starter throughout his nine years in the big leagues, and he said that's still his focus. He can opt out of his minor league deal on March 24, but he said he's not thinking about that yet. He also made it clear he's not yet thinking about being this club's long reliever.
"My number one goal is to be a starter, but at the same time you've got to take what you get," he said. "I'd be be blessed with the opportunity to be part of this ballclub."
While Holland has impressed, so too have Chris Stratton and Blach. They entered camp with a leg up on the others, and both have thrown well. The Giants also may not need a fifth starter for the first couple weeks of the season, so a bullpen spot is the most likely path for any newcomers. It wouldn't be hard for the Giants to squeeze Holland into a bullpen that currently has just one lefty - Tony Watson - and appears to have two spots available. Even if they slide Stratton or Blach to the bullpen early, they still could keep Holland and one other pitcher, perhaps Josh Osich - who has thrown extremely well - or Rule 5 pick Julian Fernandez.
Holland said he'll worry about what he can control, and about what he shows. This is an audition for the Giants but also for other teams that may sniff around later this month. After tailing off in the second half last year, Holland came in with a simple spring plan.
"My goal was to show everyone that I'm healthy," Holland said.
He certainly has. Holland sat 91-92 mph most of the night but hit 93 a few times. He flashed a good curveball, getting out of a third-inning jam with a particularly nasty one to Mike Zunino.
"I've seen kind of every side of him. He was throwing 95-96 (early in his career) and then he was battling injuries for a while and the velocity was down," longtime American Leaguer Evan Longoria said. "It's good to see the velo back up now. I think he could be a big asset for us if he can do what he did today."