Yankees need Clay Holmes to dominate all season
DUNEDIN, Fla. — For three months, the 2022 Yankees looked poised to become one of the greatest baseball teams of all time. They were close to tying or breaking the major league record of 116 wins and, more importantly, winning their first World Series title since 2009.
Instead, they failed to win 100 games before being swept by the Astros in the ALCS, and a laden list of forensic investigators would be needed to pinpoint all the reasons. But one player has embodied the bizarre 2022 Yankees story arc as much as anyone: Clay Holmes. He was Mariano Rivera in the first half of the season, and something significantly less than that in the second.
Holmes made the All-Star team in his first full season in the Bronx, and before the break he looked nothing like the 5.57 ERA pitcher the Pirates traded. When Yankees manager Aaron Boone told him he was going to Los Angeles for the Midsummer Classic, Holmes replied, “I’m glad it’s as a Yankee.”
Like Rivera’s cutter, Holmes’ sinker was a terrifying weapon…until it wasn’t.
The first sign of real trouble came on July 12, after Holmes converted 16 of 18 backup opportunities. He imploded in the ninth inning while turning a 3-0 lead over the Reds into a 4-3 loss, inflating his ERA from 0.46 to a more humane 1.37. In August, Holmes landed on the injured list with lower back spasms after making three saves and allowing seven points in five appearances. A bullpen that had already lost Chad Green and Michael King for the season was suddenly in bad shape.
Holmes later overcame a shoulder strain to become a reliable playoff option, but not reliable enough for Boone to summon him amid an ALDS Game 3 disaster against Cleveland that put it all to rest. edge of the abyss. That’s okay, though, because Holmes helped beat the Guardians in Games 4 and 5 and didn’t give up an earned run in six playoff innings. That’s reason enough to believe he’s back and – along with Edwin Diaz for the year – now the most valuable in town.
As a compassionate peer, Holmes felt the impact of the knee injury Diaz suffered during a World Baseball Classic celebration and called it “a punch in the stomach.” Unlike Diaz, Holmes couldn’t maintain his 2022 shine all season. If the Yankees are to give themselves their best chance of finally toppling the Astros by securing home-court advantage for the inevitable October matchup to come, Holmes will be essential to that pursuit.
When asked if he accepted the idea that he was among the Yankees’ most important players in an eventual championship, Holmes dismissed by default the overall talent in the bullpen.
“For me, it’s not so much about getting caught up in individual affairs,” he said. “I’m just going to make sure I’m ready to do my job when the time is right. I think there’s enough talent in this room that if we all do that at the end of the day, we’ll have some really good races. … For anyone to accept crazy responsibility, whether it exists or not, may not be the best way to look at it.
Of course, there is enough pressure in New York for any unnecessary additions. And although general manager Brian Cashman called Holmes a “really big, strong and intimidating presence on the mound”, he cited a number of relievers capable of taking the ball in save situations, including Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta and King. Rather than a traditional approach to the role of closest, the Yankees will likely go more by committee — with Holmes as committee chairman.
“I know Clay will have a lot of opportunities,” pitching coach Matt Blake said, “but I think with the way Booney talked about it, there’s a lot of guys who could probably shut down some games for us, whether it’s Wandy or [Loaisiga] or King. … If we have a roster that has a ton of right-handed hitters in the eighth inning and left-handed hitters in the ninth, it doesn’t make much sense for Clay to go in the ninth when he can face the [George] Springers, the [Bo] Bichettes and the [Vladimir] Guerreros in eighth.
So be it. It should be noted, however, that during the seven championship seasons of the George Steinbrenner era, the Yankees had singular strengths in the closer role. Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award in 1977. Goose Gossage led the AL in stoppages in 1978 and became a Hall of Famer. John Wetteland led the league in saves and was named World Series MVP in 1996. Mariano Rivera became the GOAT bullpen and the first unanimous Hall of Famer while closing title-team games in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.
Can Holmes join this select group?
“He’s capable of being a dominant reliever,” Boone said before Holmes delivered a scoreless inning on nine pitches on Saturday in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
The Yankees could definitely use that dominance for six months this season instead of three.
New York Post