The Pittsburgh Pirates gave Clay Holmes a $1.2 M signing bonus to break his commitment to Auburn last year. The bonus was a record for a ninth round pick, and is tied for the biggest bonus in Pirates’ history outside of the third round. The right-handed pitcher signed close to the deadline, which prevented him from making his debut until tonight.
He certainly didn’t disappoint. Holmes threw five shutout innings, giving up three hits, one walk, and striking out five.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Holmes said. “I was able to throw three pitches for strikes, I was getting ahead in counts, get some ground balls.”
Aside from the strong strikeout to walk ratio, Holmes put up a 7:1 ground out to air out ratio, and was very efficient, throwing 70 pitches in his five innings of work. In fact, he was so efficient that he bought himself an extra inning. Originally he was only supposed to go four innings or 65 pitches, but he worked so quickly that manager Dave Turgeon sent him out for another frame.
“We stretched him out to five just because his pitch efficiency was so good,” Turgeon said. “We could squeeze another one out of him. It was really going to be four. His pitch count was very reasonably low, and we ran him out there for another one.”
Holmes was told he had just ten pitches in the fifth inning. He used a bit more than that, but not much more. Overall he was efficient throughout the game, pounding the zone, getting quick outs, and using his off-speed stuff to put away opposing hitters when possible.
“I know I’m on a pitch count. I know if I want to go deeper in the game I have to really get hitters out on three pitches or less,” Holmes said on his efficiency.
Early in the start Holmes was leaving his fastball up in the zone a bit too much. Part of that could have been due to making his pro debut. That led to two of his three hits on the night. One of those hits would have led to a run had it not been for a strong throw to the plate from Walker Gourley. Holmes settled down and was down in the zone through the rest of the start.
“He can bring a very good downhill fastball,” pitching coach Justin Meccage said. “When he’s down, it’s downhill. More so than a lot of guys. It’s very similar to Heredia. The fastball when it’s down has a lot of plane, but when it’s up, it’s pretty flat.”
Like Heredia, Holmes is a tall pitcher (6′ 5″), has some weight on his frame (230 pounds), and throws from a high arm slot. That leads to the strong downward plane, but makes it hard to throw with an angle when the ball is up in the zone. He was sitting 89-92 MPH with his fastball tonight.
A big pitch for Holmes was his changeup, which he used frequently, getting a few strikeouts in the process.
“The changeup, I felt really comfortable with that tonight,” Holmes said. “That helped me a lot.”
“The big plus I saw out of Clay tonight was the changeup,” Meccage said. “The changeup was a very good pitch, and I thought he did a good job of getting ahead of hitters. We’ve been really working on that killer instinct to put hitters away, and I thought he tried to do a nice job of that today. Intent was good. A lot of times execution was pretty good.”
Holmes showed a lot of comfort with the pitch, throwing it when he was behind in the count, in even counts, and during the first pitch. That’s a big surprise, as he wasn’t always comfortable with the change. After about a month of extended Spring Training, Holmes and Meccage started pounding the pitch to get him more comfortable with it. At times he tries to manipulate the pitch, but he’s gotten much more comfortable, as seen tonight with his usage.
Holmes was using a three pitch mix, going with his fastball, change, and curveball. All three pitches have strong cutting movement. The change looks more like a breaking pitch. The curveball has a hard break, and looks more like a slider. The emphasis right now is throwing off his fastball and changeup, which he did well tonight.
JACOB STALLINGS PLAYING A KEY ROLE
The Spikes saw two top pitching prospects put up strong starts the last two nights. Luis Heredia made a great NYPL debut with four shutout innings last night. Holmes put up five shutout innings tonight. And a big reason for that is the guy behind the plate.
“Common denominator between yesterday and today’s game for me, Jacob Stallings,” manager Dave Turgeon said. “Again, having a feel for the pitch calling. Timely mound visits. I don’t even have to worry about that.”
Stallings, a senior out of UNC, has worked with a lot of talented pitchers at UNC. He’s caught big games, he’s caught first rounders, and all of his experience is helping him adjust quickly to a new pitching staff. That was seen tonight with Holmes when Stallings helped to calm him down early in the game.
“There was a time where he started getting a little erratic with his fastball. I just told him to settle down a little bit, and keep staying in the zone like he had been,” Stallings said. “He made a really good adjustment. Credit to him. He threw three pitches well tonight.”
The biggest strength for Stallings is his ability to handle different personalities. Last night he worked with Heredia, a 17-year-old pitcher from Mexico who often requires the use of a translator. Tonight he worked with Holmes, a 19-year-old making his pro debut. His influence behind the plate should be key for the development of the young State College pitching staff.
NO MORE BUNTS FOR BARRETT BARNES?
After getting off to a slow start in his pro career, Barrett Barnes exploded for three hits in his final three at-bats on Thursday. He started off with a single in his first at-bat tonight. In the third inning he came up to the plate with no outs, and runners on first and second, and bunted.
“We’d like to see him swing the bat in that situation,” Turgeon said after the game. “Drive the ball in the gap. I know the thought was, good thought. But three hole guy, we can project him as a middle of the lineup bat in the big leagues. I’d love to see him drive a ball off the wall right there.”
The pitcher on the mound was falling to the first base side after each pitch. Barnes bunted to the left of the mound, with the pitcher having no chance at the ball. However, he was thrown out on a good play from the third baseman.
“He was thinking ‘get a knock, move the runners’,” Turgeon said. “Again, the thoughts were good. Love the thoughts. But that’s knowing yourself and your role there…I’d look for him to get a fastball he could hammer somewhere.”
In his next at-bat, Barnes hit a hard shot off the barrel of the bat, but the ball went right to the center fielder. He picked up his second hit of the game in his third at-bat, singling up the middle to finish off a 2-for-3 night.