Clay Holmes didn’t have the numbers of an impact reliever when the Yankees acquired him before the trade deadline, but the right-hander has been as reliable as anyone in New York’s bullpen.
Holmes, dealt from Pittsburgh, came to the Yankees with an ERA near 5.00 and a BB% over 13%. His bread and butter, however, was inducing grounders. He led the majors with a 72.8% ground ball rate at the time of the move, so the Yankees saw something to work with.
But Holmes has rapidly gone from project pitcher to Aaron Boone’s circle of trust. He has a 1.32 ERA in 12 games with the Yankees, and his most recent outings—as well as Jonathan Loáisiga’s injury and other relievers’ funks—have Holmes primed to pitch in big spots over the final month of the season.
Holmes began his September by avoiding an 11th-inning jam and getting the win on Friday. He struck out all four Orioles he faced the next day, which included a bases-loaded escape. He has allowed just two earned runs in 13.2 innings pitched for New York.
“He’s gonna find himself in those spots,” Boone said when asked about continuing to use Holmes in critical conditions. “He’s certainly earned that with or without Lo being in there for a little bit. He’s been excellent with us, and we’ll continue to give him the ball in big spots. I think he has all the equipment to handle it.”
Holmes came to the Yankees with the same equipment, or arsenal, that he had with the Pirates, but he has tinkered with it. The 28-year-old has significantly increased the use of his sinker, which was already his go-to pitch in Pittsburgh. Holmes has also nearly abandoned his curveball and incorporated his cutter at levels more comparable to what he was doing earlier in the season.
"A good sinker can beat a lot of people,” Holmes said after notching that extra-inning win, and his most definitely has.
Interestingly enough, Homes’ GB% with the Yankees is not as high as it was with Pittsburgh, and his Fly Ball% has gone up. That sounds like a recipe for disaster for a pitcher who changed his address to Yankee Stadium, but Holmes has yet to allow a home run or a barrel since joining New York.
He has also drastically improved his strikeout and walk rates.
The numbers tell the story of a more complete—and in control—pitcher than Holmes was with the Pirates.
That’s exactly what the Yankees need right now. Holmes has been one of the few relievers Boone can count on consistently, so expect to see him more when the game is on the line. If Holmes keeps succeeding down the stretch, the manager’s faith in him could extend to October.
“I knew I had the ability to get out of situations like that,” Holmes said after the 11th-inning win. “For me to take the next step in my career, those are situations that I need to be in and take advantage of.”
So far, he’s done just that.
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