ALTOONA – As I watched Clay Holmes start on Sunday in Altoona, I specifically noticed two particular pitches that Holmes threw. Both of them were to left-handed batters and seemed to break hard down and away from the batter, with the first coming in at 91 MPH and the second at 92 MPH. On a day where his fastball was sitting between 93-95 MPH, I quickly put an asterisk next to those pitches and wanted to ask about them after the game.
When talking with Holmes in the clubhouse following the game, it was discovered that he has now added a two-seamer to his mix of pitches.
“I got my two-seam back, so I was just trying to throw that,” Holmes said after the game. “It got a lot of ground balls, and it was really good today.”
Sunday afternoon in Altoona was the first time that Holmes has used a two-seam fastball as a professional pitcher. He used the pitch in high school before he signed with the Pirates, but Holmes said that they removed the two-seamer from his collection of pitches before he even threw his first pitch in a Pirate uniform.
“The way that the Pirates develop high school arms, they kind of want to teach fastball command,” Holmes said. “They took the two-seamer away when I first signed and wanted me to learn how to pitch with the four-seamer.”
Holmes went on to say that “they felt comfortable with where he was at now” with the four-seam fastball as the reason why they added the pitch at this particular time.
The plan for Sunday was for Holmes to throw 5-10 two-seam fastballs, combined with a strong focus on his changeup and his typical offerings of four-seamers and curveballs.
“He worked on it during his last side session,” Pitching Coach Justin Meccage told Pirates Prospects after the game. “It’s something he threw at the amateur levels, and we felt like it would be a good pitch for him. We wanted to bring it back into play.”
Obviously it is difficult to completely recognize the results when only throwing the pitch a handful of times, but early reaction seemed positive for the right-hander.
“It gives him a ground ball pitch for sure,” Meccage said. “It gives him some wiggle room with the [four-seam] fastball. Honestly, it’s just a different look, and it gives him another option.”
Meccage said that the two-seamer will help Holmes work away from left-handed batters and inside to right-handed batters. Unfortunately, I did not specifically recognize the pitch thrown to a righty on Sunday, but the couple of two-seamers that I did notice to left-handed batters had very good movement and broke hard away from the batter.
With the addition of the two-seam fastball, Holmes now has the following pitches with their respective velocities:
Four-seam Fastball: 93-96 MPH
Two-seam Fastball: 91-93 MPH
Changeup: 84-87 MPH
Curveball: 80-83 MPH
Holmes four-seam fastball already had some hard downward movement, and he has consistently been very good at getting ground balls all through his career.
Those 299 ground balls equal out to a career 60.04% ground ball rate for Holmes. That isn’t too shabby for a guy who just threw his first professional two-seamer on Sunday in Altoona. In addition, he had a 12:7 ground ball to fly ball ratio on Sunday.
Holmes got touched up in his first start of the season in early April, but the extremely cold temperature admittedly affected his ability to throw certain pitches. As it was his first game above High-A and the conditions were challenging, I’d scratch that start and begin to look at his season from his second start, where the numbers began to show improvements.
In his last three starts for Altoona, he has gone 17 innings and allowed four earned runs. Command has been much better in these three starts for Holmes as well, which is an encouraging sign for the righty. Meccage feels that his changeup has been the most impressive pitch so far, and his curveball has improved greatly. It will be interesting to take note of how Holmes now intertwines the two-seamer into his arsenal as the year progresses.