Clay Holmes extended his scoreless innings streak to 30 straight on Wednesday night, earning his 11th career save in the Yankees’ 4-3 win over the Rays at the Stadium.
With Aroldis Chapman closing in on a return from the injured list, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees use Holmes when the closer returns. Before Chapman suffered the Achilles injury, Aaron Boone was quicker to use Holmes in the highest leverage moments against the toughest parts of the lineup.
And that may be the best way to use him going forward.
“I think a little of everything,” Boone said of Holmes’ role when Chapman returns. “Like [Tuesday] night I would have potentially used Holmes in the eighth inning. If it lined up correctly, it would have been the top of that lineup and I hadn’t used [Wandy] Peralta already for the middle. I was prepared to go Clay in the eighth.”
“So he’ll be closing some games too,” Boone continued. “Basically, he’s gonna find himself in a lot of the toughest parts of the lineup. So whether that’s the eighth inning, the ninth inning, we’ll just try and match him up as best we can.”
Holmes has been the Yankees’ most reliable reliever this season. He has not had a team score on him over the last 30 innings he has pitched, nearing a franchise record set by Mariano Rivera (30.2 innings) back in 1999. In 29 appearances, 30.2 total innings pitched this season. Holmes has allowed one earned run for a 0.29 ERA, the second-best ERA through a pitcher’s first 29 games of a season behind only Dellin Betances.
His sinker is heavy with “wiffle ball movement” that is similar to a left-hander and fastball velocity that sits 96.7 mph but can touch 100. It generates a ridiculous amount of harmless ground balls. His ground ball rate is an amazing 81.6% and his fly ball rate is an impressive 5%.
“It’s just straight dominance,” Aaron Judge said. “Every single time it comes out there. I feel like the game’s over with. He just attacks the strike zone. The movement on all his pitches is just unhittable. I kind of get on him after some of his past outings, ‘Hey, man, you gotta get me some work out there. I just kind of sit out there and take a nap when he comes in the game. But it’s fun to play behind and he’s gonna go out there and give it his all and you’re gonna be a tough at-bat.”
The Yankees knew he had talent when they acquired him from the Pirates last July. They made a few adjustments with his sinker, targeting it higher so that his misses wouldn’t be so outside the strike zone, cutting down on his walk rate. While his walks-per-nine innings was never less than three in four seasons with the Pirates, it’s never been more than 1.3 with the Yankees. It’s 0.9 right now, having walked just three of the 113 batters he’s faced. He’s struck out 32 for a career-high 28.4% strikeout rate.
“I think he’s been beyond great to this point. Special run that he’s efficient, dominant however you want to describe it,” Boone said. “He’s in a really good place obviously, with tremendous stuff and going out there with a lot of confidence, I think, because of that stuff and the confidence in his game plan and his ability to execute. And it’s definitely been fun to watch him do his thing.”
The Yankees improved to 30 games above .500 Wednesday. They are only the fourth major league team in the last 67 years to win at least 46 of their first 62 games of a season and just the seventh major league team since 1930. They joined the 2001 Mariners, 1939, 1953 and 1998 Yankees, 1984 Tigers and 1955 Dodgers to do so.
Judge isn’t really interested in standing at the 62-game point.
“I think we’re more focused on the next game. The record and what we’ve done so far has been great, but the thing that makes this team special, like I’ve been saying, is that tonight’s over with and we’ll celebrate this but we got another big one tomorrow.
“We gotta go out there and try to sweep.”