Holmes' outing raises questions on Yanks' closer role

August 13th, 2022

BOSTON -- There was an “uh-oh” moment on the first pitch from Clay Holmes, a 97 mph sinker wildly missing its target and sailing toward the Fenway Park backstop. That bread-and-butter pitch, which made him one of the league’s most dominant relievers and punched a ticket to the All-Star Game, remains unreliable.

Holmes’ ninth-inning struggles continued on Friday, with the right-hander’s third blown save in 11 appearances raising a legitimate question of reinstating Aroldis Chapman to the closer’s role. Holmes coughed up the lead before Tommy Pham’s 10th-inning hit handed the reeling Yanks a 3-2 loss, their eighth in nine games.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting back to what made me good, what I was doing then,” Holmes said. “I was being aggressive in the zone early. When I get ahead of hitters, they have to swing the bat and make different decisions. I don’t feel like I’m far off, but again, those walks hurt me. This can’t happen.”

Boston pushed across the deciding run in the 10th, with Pham drilling a run-scoring hit inside the third-base line off Lou Trivino.

Holmes’ ascent into the closer’s role coincided with Chapman’s early-season struggles and a club surge that rivaled the 1998 Yankees’ winning clip, but those storylines have flipped in recent weeks.

Chapman fired a dominant 11-pitch eighth inning on Friday, though it couldn’t prevent New York from losing for the 14th time in 21 games since the All-Star break. Now it is Holmes who sees the strike zone dancing, his 0.46 ERA through 38 appearances having been bloated by a month of spotty efforts.

Since July 12, Holmes has pitched to a 10.24 ERA in 11 appearances, issuing 10 walks over 9 2/3 innings after permitting just seven walks over his first 39 1/3 frames of the year.

Asked if he can keep Holmes in the closer’s role, manager Aaron Boone said: “We’ll see. I’ll try to get him in the best positions to be successful. Some nights, that will be the ninth. We’ll keep working with him. We’ve got to get him right and consistent.”

It has been a frustrating road trip for the Yanks, who were swept in three games by the Cardinals in St. Louis before dropping two of three to the Mariners in Seattle. They’d hoped a return to the Eastern Time zone -- and a matchup with the cellar-dwelling Red Sox -- would restore their strut.

Held to Anthony Rizzo’s first-inning RBI double and Aaron Judge’s Major League-leading 46th home run, New York guarded a one-run lead into the late innings, attempting to preserve a victory after Domingo Germán provided a season-high six frames of sharp one-run ball.

Scott Effross worked a scoreless seventh and Chapman impressed in a perfect eighth, striking out two. It was Chapman’s eighth consecutive scoreless appearance, dating to July 26 -- over that eight-inning span, Chapman has allowed just three hits and a walk, striking out eight.

“It’s incredible, especially to come in here in this situation, the eighth inning like that with a rowdy crowd and a 2-1 game,” Judge said. “It’s a tough thing to do. But he’s been locating his pitches well, attacking hitters and putting the pressure on them. When you do that with the type of stuff he has, running it up to 100 [mph], you’re going to get good results.”

Holmes retired Rafael Devers on a ground ball to start the ninth, but walked Xander Bogaerts on five pitches and Alex Verdugo on seven. J.D. Martinez followed with a sharp single to center field, scoring Bogaerts with the tying run.

“Obviously, that’s a situation where we’ve got to get the strike-throwing right,” Boone said.

Holmes remains 17-for-22 in save chances this season but hardly resembles the first-half force who made the ninth innings feel automatic. Holmes said there are no physical issues, claiming that his arm feels fine and fatigue is not a factor, guessing that there is a mechanical tweak to be made.

“Sometimes the sinker is a feel pitch,” Holmes said. “It’s finding that consistent feel, the consistent starting point, and being able to trust that.”

Whatever needs to happen, Holmes understands that his recent results are unacceptable.

“It’s the walks that I’m just getting hurt on right now,” Holmes said. “Anytime you walk guys late in the game, you typically pay for it. It’s just something where I’ve got to get ahead of hitters. My stuff works a lot better in those counts.”