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Holmes' new pitch a work in progress

Young righty's repertoire includes cut fastball-slider hybrid
Special to MLB.com

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Clay Holmes is still trying to get a good feel for a new pitch this spring.

The 23-year old right-hander has been working on a cut fastball-slider hybrid that he and fellow pitching prospect Tyler Eppler started experimenting with late last season. The results were promising. After finding initial success with it, especially when it comes to inducing ground balls, he has tried to make it a bigger part of his arsenal this spring.

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Clay Holmes is still trying to get a good feel for a new pitch this spring.

The 23-year old right-hander has been working on a cut fastball-slider hybrid that he and fellow pitching prospect Tyler Eppler started experimenting with late last season. The results were promising. After finding initial success with it, especially when it comes to inducing ground balls, he has tried to make it a bigger part of his arsenal this spring.

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"I threw it quite a few times today," Holmes said. "I got some spots where I could try and force some contact with it. … It's coming along."

Holmes got the start against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Saturday. He allowed two earned runs on four hits, struck out two and walked one in 1 2/3 innings in what turned out to be a 7-6 loss for the Bucs.

"[I saw] a young man getting his first Spring Training start get caught up overthrowing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Lot of balls were up in the zone. Fastball command wasn't very consistent. He was just wild in the zone, and his secondary stuff was inconsistent as well, which makes for some tough sledding out there."

Before Saturday, Holmes hadn't allowed a run in two previous two appearances. One of the most promising signs for Holmes is that he is also getting more swings and misses while averaging just under two strikeouts per inning.

A ninth-round pick in 2011 by the Bucs out of Slocomb High School in Alabama, Holmes missed all of the 2014 season to Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm and made just nine starts late across two low-Minors stops in 2015. In 2016, his first full season back from surgery, Holmes went 10-9 with a 4.22 ERA in 26 starts with Altoona, the Pirates' Double-A affiliate.

Holmes worked himself into a jam to start the game after a bunt single by Orioles leadoff hitter Chris Dickerson and a walk to Joey Rickard set up consecutive RBI singles by Hyun Soo Kim and Mark Trumbo -- both barely squeezing through infield gaps -- before retiring the next three hitters in order.

"I didn't feel as good as I did in the previous outings," Holmes said. "I was kind of put in a tough spot early there, but I felt like I fought back and fought back well. It was good because nobody wants to be in that spot with nobody out and two runners on in the first innings, but it was good to kind of get that feeling where you have to compete and fight back to keep your team in the ballgame."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Pirates on Saturday.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Clay Holmes