NEW YORK (AP) — Clay Holmes was walking through a Target in Pittsburgh last July after a late flight home from San Francisco when Pirates general manager Ben Cherington called.
“Just given the Pirates’ situation, you know some trades were going to happen,” Holmes said. “I was just anxious to hear from the team. When I heard I was going to the Yankees, it was so exciting.”
The change has brought about a transformation in Holmes. The 29-year-old right-hander has gone from worst to first in the standings and from off the big league roster to a possible All-Star appearance.
Ninth innings in the Bronx have become Clay Time, Holmes entering with cap pulled low like Andy Pettitte and picking off batters like, well, clay pigeons.
“You’re seeing kind of a finished product, polished guy in the prime of his career that’s walking out there night in and night out with a ton of confidence,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He knows exactly what he wants to do, how he wants to attack.”
Taking over from a shaky and injured Aroldis Chapman, he is perfect in seven save chances with a streak of 25 scoreless innings and a 0.35 ERA. Yet, Holmes is so new at the ninth inning he lacks the job’s status symbol: a settled entrance song.
He has induced 82.3% ground balls this season, easily the highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 20 innings, ahead of second-place Framber Valdez (65.7%). Holmes’ 8.50 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is more than 40% superior to Valdez’s 5.57 — no other pitcher is above 4.
“I get mad at him at times,” outfielder Aaron Judge said with a mischievous smile. “When he comes in in the ninth, I say, ‘Hey, man, you can give me one fly ball. You can give me a little bit of action out there.’”
A closer has…