By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Baseball’s creatures of habit, starting pitchers each have unique rituals to their day on the mound.

Many keep to themselves and zone in leading up to that first pitch and keep focus until handing over the ball. But White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is a different kind of guy.

Upon walking from the left field bullpen Saturday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field, Holland and catcher Kevan Smith were all smiles. He entered the dugout and playfully put third baseman Todd Frazier in a headlock. Holland then worked through a line and exchanged unique handshakes with each of his White Sox teammates.

Holland, the self-described left-handed bandit for the White Sox, has been unique on the mound, too. Saturday was the latest in interesting outings for Holland, as he went six innings and surrendered just one run in the White Sox’s 4-3 loss to the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader. It could’ve been a rough day for him.

In the second inning, Holland benefited from an Avisail Garcia gun to get Victor Martinez at the plate. In the third, he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk but got Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez to strike out on sliders. In the fifth, he induced J.D. Martinez to ground into an inning-ending double play after two free passes. In the sixth, he escaped with a man in scoring position by getting JaCoby Jones to chase a sinker.

When in trouble, Holland went to the well and utilized his arsenal.

“You always got to trust your stuff, anytime you step out there,” Holland said after the game.

Holland now stands at 4-4 and boasts a 2.40 ERA on the season — a mark that ranks seventh in baseball — but with a FIP at 4.40. By comparison, Chris Sale ranks sixth with a 2.34 ERA but has a 1.80 FIP. Holland has allowed just 16 earned runs in 10 starts but also 11 unearned runs. His stat line has been both positively and negatively impacted by defense.

Holland has been by far the most consistent White Sox starter amid the expected struggles for a rebuilding team, as one would’ve expected Jose Quintana or Carlos Rodon would be the most effective lefty on the club.

Judgement of Holland comes partially in the metrics. He had a career 4.25 ERA and 4.25 FIP entering Saturday, meaning the results have been a reflection of his work. The 4.40 FIP this season would suggest Holland is pitching just shy of his career norm.

Of course, Holland’s nine-year career has been disturbed by injuries. His last full season came in 2013, a year in which he went 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA (3.44 FIP). Holland has spent the better part of the last three seasons attempting to stay healthy. In 2016, he posted a 4.95 ERA and dealt with shoulder problems a year removed from a 4.91 ERA and more shoulder problems.

He’s not going to sweat the ERA-to-FIP differential while good fortunes have been on his side this season.

Holland is facing an interesting scenario this season. Now settling in with the White Sox, his successes could lead to a deadline deal. His rebuilding team is looking to swap veteran assets for young prospects. Should Holland continue this early pace, he will become a candidate to get traded come July.

Holland remains in the moment as he continues to find success each time on the mound. After a White Sox comeback fell short Saturday, he spoke in a soft tone. The personal victories haven’t come with those for his team, but Holland has plenty to be proud of.

One of baseball’s most interesting creatures of habit is having a strong comeback season with some interesting results along the way.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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