Clase working to regain form as one of MLB's elite closers
This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
There’s nothing the Guardians would welcome more than seeing Emmanuel Clase turn into the lights-out closer that he was last season. And it seems like he may be on the path to getting there.
Clase has had his fair share of struggles this year. He’s not striking guys out or missing bats as often as he did in 2022, but he’s found things that he can work on to help him right the ship. And after he blew his fifth save of the season over the weekend in New York, he had the perfect rebound against the White Sox on Monday, tossing a hitless inning with one strikeout to secure the save.
“After that tough series, what I felt not being able to close those games, it’s a good feeling to be able to go over there and secure that win,” Clase said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero.
Clase’s velocity is trending back in the right direction. After averaging between 96 and 97 mph on his cutter to start the season, most of the last few outings have consisted of triple-digit cutters. On Monday, his average velocity on his slider was up a tick (91.8 mph), and maxed out at 93 mph.
“It looked like he was mad,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Like he was throwing his slider 93. I don’t get a very good look from where I sit, but when he threw a couple of them sliders, I looked at [bench coach DeMarlo Hale] and I’m like, ‘You can’t hit that.’ That was good to see.”
Three of his four sliders induced whiffs. In 2022, his slider caused batters to whiff 42.7% of the time. So far this year, that rate sits at 25.4%. So, the movement he was able to get on Monday shows he could be starting to find his groove.
When Clase made the jump from 96 or 97 mph on his cutter to 100 mph, Francona was asked what Clase has done in order to regain that velocity that had been lost. Francona said he didn’t want to give away all of their secrets, but did note that his arm angle may have been one of the culprits. Clase echoed a similar sentiment when he was asked about what he’d been working on after securing his 16th save of the season.
“There are a couple of things that we’ve been working on,” Clase said. “But I feel one of the things was my arm was getting a little bit too short. I wasn’t able to locate the pitches as I wanted. So we worked and it enabled me to have enough time to get my arm where I wanted it.”
Batters still aren’t squaring up Clase regularly, considering he’s in the 79th percentile in barrel percentage, but he’s certainly seen more hits this year than he did last.
He’s already blown five saves this season after having just four blown saves in all of 2022. But it’s important to note that Clase is leading the Majors with 16 saves after he led the league last year with 42. He’s leading all relievers again in appearances (25) and even though he doesn’t have superhuman-like numbers right now, that doesn’t mean he can’t get back to that level before season’s end.
Clase is continuing to work to figure out every reason that he’s experienced more hiccups this season than last. As he does, he’s relying on his track record to keep his confidence high.
He was an All-Star in ‘22. He was a fifth-place finisher in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in ’21. Along with Edwin Díaz, he was one of the most dominant relievers in the game and had a WHIP of just 0.729 last year.
He has gotten off to a slow start, but Clase is confident he can be the guy the Guardians need him to be at the back end of the bullpen.
“I think it’s always keeping your head up,” Clase said. “This is a difficult game. There’s going to be ups and downs and the other teams are also competing. Sometimes we’re not gonna always get our way, but the important part is to be able to go out there with our head up and compete the best way I can.”