Clay Holmes led the State College Spikes to a 7-4 victory versus the Williamsport Crosscutters on Thursday night. The 6’ 5” righty surrendered only one hit through five shutout innings, while striking out four and walking none. Holmes had plenty of run support, as the Spikes staked him three runs in the first, and he never looked back. Catcher Jacob Stallings went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and shortstop Chris Diaz was 2-for-3 with three RBIs as well. Barrett Barnes continued to have an impact; in spite of going 0-for-2 at the plate, the second round draft pick walked twice, scored two runs, and stole his team-leading tenth base.
Clay Holmes Continues Scoreless Streak
Holmes impressed once again for the Spikes tonight, moving to 3-1 and lowering his season earned-run average to 0.94. Holmes has now held his opponents scoreless in his past 15 innings pitched, allowing only three hits over that time span. He showed more ability to miss bats tonight, registering four strikeouts, and he commanded all three pitches in his repertoire, an 89-93 mph fastball, 80-81 mph change-up, and 77-79 mph slurve with good movement.
Holmes’ command was much better tonight than when I saw him a few weeks ago. As expected, he worked to get ahead in the count with his fastball, but tonight the pitch was consistently on the corners and down in the zone. By keeping the ball down, Holmes induced a large majority of groundball outs (Ground out:air out= 8:3).
Holmes threw 61 pitches on the night, 40 for strikes (66%), and in addition to keeping the ball down, he impressed by throwing well to both the inside and outside corners. On the night, very few of Holmes’ 50 fastballs caught the middle of the plate. One exception was the only hit he gave up on a 1-and-2 count to right fielder Yan Olmo.
Fastball command is important for almost any pitcher, but tonight for Holmes it especially helped the effectiveness of his two off-speed pitches. By getting ahead in counts, he could use the change-up and curve as a strikeout pitch, and all four strikeouts came from these pitches. The change-up played really well tonight against the heavily left-handed batting Crosscutters line-up.
“I usually throw my change-up more to left-handed batters. It’s a pitch I’m getting more and more comfortable with, so all the left-handers tonight didn’t really bother me,” said Holmes.
The development of Holmes’ change-up is promising, especially since he just started throwing the pitch last year when he joined the Pirates system. So far this season, he is increasingly throwing the pitch with consistency at a constant speed (80-81 mph) with the same motion as his fastball.
Holmes also used his slurve well. Unlike some previous outings, he focused solely on throwing the pitch down in the zone, with less emphasis on throwing it in the strike zone. With good downward bite, several batters chased the pitch out of the zone, in some cases missing quite badly.
“We worked on it in the bullpen before the game — not really trying to locate that pitch because then it’s not as sharp. We really wanted to just throw it down in the zone and try to get some swings-and-misses,” said Holmes.
From the perspective of manager Dave Turgeon and pitching coach Justin Meccage, the key to Holmes’ continued success is his aggressive mentality.
“When you have his kind of talent and you come up from high school, that level isn’t really going to bring that [aggressive] mentality out. I’ve seen him go from 92 mph and comfortable to 96 with some aggression,” noted Turgeon.
In game situations, I have not seen Holmes throw harder than 94 mph, sitting 89-93 in both outings. Still young with some projection in his frame, there is a chance the added velocity noted by Turgeon could appear in his repertoire.
“That was his best outing of the year,” said Meccage. “The aggressiveness he brings to the table every night is his strength. A lot of times you’ll see him slip in-and-out of it, especially when he gets behind in the count. Tonight he maintained that aggressiveness.”
** Both Logan Pevny and Tom Harlan came on in relief, each surrendering two runs in their two innings of work. Pevny added three strikeouts, and the only hit he gave up was a towering two-run homer to first baseman Chris Serritella on a belt-high fastball.
** Right-handed pitcher Jake Burnette, currently on the 7-day disabled list, is still awaiting results from an MRI on his elbow.
** Catcher Ryan Hornback was placed on the 60-day DL, effectively ending his season with a left groin injury. Hornback has been one of the Spikes more consistent hitters with a .291/.329/.367 line with 12 runs batted in.