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Notes: Holland's focus; González returns

@adamdberry
March 5, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Steven Brault’s strained left shoulder and Chad Kuhl’s deliberate buildup in Spring Training have seemingly created a wide-open spot in the Pirates’ rotation, a vacancy that seems likely to be filled by veteran left-hander Derek Holland. But Holland isn’t trying to predict the Opening Day roster.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Steven Brault’s strained left shoulder and Chad Kuhl’s deliberate buildup in Spring Training have seemingly created a wide-open spot in the Pirates’ rotation, a vacancy that seems likely to be filled by veteran left-hander Derek Holland.

But Holland isn’t trying to predict the Opening Day roster. Really, he won’t let himself consider how Brault’s injury affects anybody but Brault.

“I’m not going to think like that," Holland said. "He’s a teammate. I care about him. I want to make sure he’s healthy. That’s the No. 1 thing.

“I want to make sure, if I do get a job or whatever the case may be, I want to earn it. I’m not going to worry about the kind of things like what’s happening with my teammates. I care about their health more than making the team.”

Holland made his case on the mound during the Pirates’ 2-1 loss on to the Rays on Thursday afternoon at Charlotte Sports Park, allowing only one run -- a home run by Austin Meadows on the first pitch Holland threw -- over four innings. Holland was frustrated with his two walks, but he didn’t allow another hit after Meadows’ homer, and he struck out two.

“Once we got past [Meadows], it settled everything down,” Holland said.

Holland worked four efficient innings on 52 pitches, including 29 strikes. His fastball sat at 90-91 mph. Catcher Luke Maile made use of all of Holland’s offspeed pitches, with Holland's curveball generating ugly swings and his changeup inducing weak contact.

Maile returned to the lineup after a brief bout of left hamstring tightness and drew rave reviews from Holland. They mixed up the left-hander’s pitch sequences, not letting hitters get comfortable, after Holland admitted that last season he became too dependent on his fastball.

“I thought the curveball and the changeup were great today. [The] fastball moved in and out,” Holland said. “Maile did a great job, man. I’ve got to really give him a lot of praise for moving me up and down, in and out. We changed the eye level of those guys.”

If Holland can pitch like he did on Thursday, or like he did for the Giants in 2018, the Pirates will have a solid veteran lefty for their rotation. Holland posted a 3.57 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with 169 strikeouts in 171 1/3 innings. Last season, he moved between the rotation and bullpen, finishing with a 6.08 ERA in 51 appearances.

But Holland is focused more on what he can do than what he has done -- or what’s going on around him.

“That’s always been my philosophy, even from Day 1. When I was with Texas, I got a [guaranteed] contract [a five-year, $28.5 million deal in 2012]. I still wanted to make sure I earned every spot that I got,” Holland said. “It’s competing every time out there. There’s a lot of guys on this team that are trying to do the same thing. My goal is to help these guys as much as I can.

“If I get the job, I get the job. That’s the most important thing, trying to make sure I can help these guys.”

Around the horn
• Infielder Erik González started at third base while making his Spring Training debut on Thursday. Held back early in camp following offseason surgery on his left foot, González played four innings in the field and went 0-for-3. He drove in Jason Martin, who legged out a leadoff triple, on a groundout in the fifth inning to plate the Pirates’ only run.

• Kuhl worked a clean fifth inning in his second Grapefruit League outing. With his fastball sitting at 92-93 mph, according to the stadium radar gun, the right-hander recorded two groundouts and got Mike Zunino to fly out to center field.

Josh Bell went 2-for-2 as the designated hitter, slapping a pair of singles to right field -- one off lefty Ryan Yarbrough, the other off righty Andrew Kittredge. Bell seems to be finding his timing, as manager Derek Shelton said on Wednesday, as he has four hits in his past seven at-bats.

• Closer Keone Kela gave up one run (on a walk, a groundout and a single) in the sixth inning. Right-hander Kyle Crick worked a 1-2-3 seventh in his second Grapefruit League outing. Reliever Nick Burdi continued his excellent spring, striking out two in a perfect eighth inning.

Up next
Right-hander Chris Archer will make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday afternoon as the Pirates travel to Dunedin, Fla., to play the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Archer finished last season on the injured list and had his spring debut delayed by neck tightness, so this will be his first game action since last Aug. 20 at PNC Park.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a while, like six or seven months, since the last time I faced competition. [I'm] looking forward to getting out there and walking away healthy,” Archer said. “That’s the No. 1 goal. Obviously, I have some things I want to work on and develop, but the most important thing is health right now.”

Archer is scheduled to work two innings. Interestingly, if he were to remain on a five-day rotation for the rest of Spring Training, he would be lined up to pitch on March 26: Opening Day against the Rays, his former team. Also of note, starter Joe Musgrove, another candidate to start on Opening Day, will take the mound after Archer on Friday.

Relievers Geoff Hartlieb, Blake Cederlind and Edgar Santana are also scheduled to pitch against Toronto. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.