These days, opposing hitters that reach first base against Clay Holmes are few and far between.
But when they do, Anthony Rizzo often hears from them about Holmes’ lethal sinker, which backs up what the Yankees first baseman sees with his own eyes.
“It looks scary to hit, that’s for sure,” Rizzo said. “And just the feedback you get from the guys that get on that talk to you about him — that’s all I need to know, how good he is. … In general, guys just saying his ball is moving like crazy. You can see, their swings tell you it all. It’s been a lot of fun to watch him do what he’s doing because it really is just pure dominance.”
Thanks in large part to that sinker, which averages 96.7 mph, can reach triple digits and features nasty movement as it ducks and dives toward the plate, Holmes has emerged as a dominant reliever out of the Yankees’ bullpen — and as their closer since Aroldis Chapman landed on the injured list in May.
After notching his 10th save in as many chances with a scoreless ninth inning Tuesday night, Holmes entered the Yankees’ game Wednesday against the Rays with a 29-inning scoreless streak (across 27 appearances). According to Elias Sports Bureau, that marks the second-longest single-season scoreless streak by a Yankees pitcher in the last 33 seasons, trailing only Mariano Rivera’s 30 ²/₃-inning scoreless streak in 1999.
“I feel like I’ve been in a good spot, especially with my sinker,” Holmes said Wednesday. “It’s been nice just to find some consistency and help the team win.”
Whether Holmes’ role will change when Chapman returns from the IL — the lefty threw a second bullpen Tuesday in his comeback from Achilles tendinitis — remains to be seen. Chapman was struggling even before he went on the IL and Holmes had stepped up to record four saves before Chapman was sidelined.
Manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday that Holmes will do “a little of everything” when Chapman is healthy.
“He’ll be closing some games too,” Boone said. “Basically he’s going to find himself in a lot of the toughest parts of the lineup. Whether that’s the eighth inning, the ninth inning, we’ll try to match him up as best we can.”
For now, Holmes is thriving in the ninth inning, despite only having one save in his pro career before this year — in 2019 at Triple-A, when he was still in the Pirates’ organization.
“I guess you could say not much experience, but I knew if I could get things right and throw the sinker I knew I could throw, then anything could be possible,” Holmes said. “Once I kind of dialed that in, things kind of fell into place.”
Holmes, who is making a serious bid for his first All-Star selection, cited better command and consistency with his sinker as keys to improved results this season. Opposing hitters are batting just .171 against the simker with a slugging percentage of .183. The sinker’s run value — a metric by Baseball Savant that quantifies the impact of a specific pitch — is minus-12, which ranks as the second-most valuable pitch by any major leaguer this season.
“He’s got the sinker metrically in such a good spot that he feels confident throwing it in the zone in any count to any hitter,” said teammate Jameson Taillon, who also played with Holmes in Pittsburgh. “Like in our [pitchers] meeting, we’ll have hitters we go over where it’s like, ‘Maybe a sinker’s not good to this guy or up is better than down.’ But for Clay, none of that matters because his pitch is such an outlier that he can throw it whenever he wants to whoever.”