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Holland makes transition to veteran on and off field

Still able to have fun, Rangers starter a role model and dedicated to winning first

Here's a quick quiz: 

Name the active left-handed American League West starter who has the longest tenure with his current team. 

Time's up.

It's 26-year-old Rangers starter Derek Holland.  

"I never think about it. There's no need to. Every day I go out, there's something I can learn from somebody else's experience," Holland said. 

Sure, that quiz was a bit wordy and perhaps too convoluted. But the point is: Right before our eyes, Holland has grown up. From young and fun, to more mature and serious. He's a veteran. In many ways.

He did admit that little fact is "cool to hear" but drove home the point that his focus is not on trivia. It's on winning and being a role model for the younger guys so they can understand what it takes to be successful and grasp how serious their mission really is. 

The word "serious" is not one most fans associate with Holland. While the self-professed "goofball" knows how to have fun, he also knows the value of leading by example. That's something Rangers manager Ron Washington has instilled in him. Holland is paying it forward by taking fellow pitcher Nick Tepesch under his wing and into his home. Tepesch, a rookie, lives with Holland. 

"I've tried to help him as much as I could, so he doesn't do things I did my first year as a rookie," said Holland. 

Holland noted that Tepesch and the rest of the young pitchers did a great job when called upon after injuries ravaged the Rangers' rotation. 

Given the injuries to Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz, it's incredible Texas is six weeks away from another playoff appearance -- a story that will gain steam if the Rangers indeed reach the postseason.

How about Tepesch as a roommate? 

"He's like a hermit crab," Holland said. "He stays in his room, keeps to himself. But we talk baseball here and there." 

Holland gives credit to Tepesch for holding the title of PlayStation Home Run Derby champion and for being a good roommate and teammate. 

When Holland speaks, you can hear the genuine admiration he has for his fellow Rangers. The core of the club has been together through the most successful run in franchise history. Guys like Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Harrison and David Murphy have enjoyed three straight years of postseason play and two World Series appearances. 

But something is missing. 

A World Series ring. 

When I asked Holland what he thinks about in regards to October baseball, his response was quick and to the point.

"For me, to get back to the World Series and get what we deserve and what the Rangers fans deserve," he said. "We need to get back there and claim what we think is ours."

It was nearly theirs in 2011. Texas came up on the short end of an epic Fall Classic, losing to St. Louis in seven games. In Game 4 of that Series, Holland pitched the game of his life, shutting down Albert Pujols and the Cardinals by throwing 8 1/3 innings of two-hit, no-run ball. That win evened the series at two games apiece and put Holland on the national map. 

He says nothing has changed for him personally since that performance, but the expectations of him grew by leaps and bounds. 

"I pitched on the big stage, the big dance floor," he said. "I felt like being able to perform there showed I can perform at any game, any level, any type of atmosphere." 

No one knows that better than Washington. He's leaned on Holland and Yu Darvish to lead the staff in a year in which scoring runs has often been a challenge. 

But Holland's relationship with the skipper runs much deeper than the typical player-manager dynamic. 

"Wash is like a dad to me," Holland said. "He's taken me in and helped me with the mental and physical sides of the game. He's a class act and an awesome leader for us." 

But it's not all serious. No surprise they also goof around. 

One of Holland's favorite stories goes like this:

Both guys enjoy an occasional cigar, so Holland surprised Washington with a stogie. Holland was excited to present his skipper with a gift, but Washington gave his lefty the business by suggesting the cigars were purchased at a 7-11. 

That type of good-natured needling is commonplace. It helps to keep things loose during the long and oftentimes stressful regular season. 

"It goes to show you the kind of relationship we have," Holland pointed out.

If all goes as planned, two and half months from now, Holland, Washington and the rest of the team will celebrate a world championship by lighting up one of those convenience-store cigars.

Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb.
Read More: Texas Rangers, Derek Holland