Clay Holmes has taken the closer role since Aroldis Chapman’s Achilles tendinitis kicked up and closed the door tight just about every time for the Yankees, sinking hitters with his sensational sinker.
Between his previous late-inning work and his ninth-inning work, he has pitched himself into contention for his first All-Star selection.
“It would be cool,” Holmes said, alone at his locker before Monday night’s series opener against Oakland at Yankee Stadium.
“Obviously, you want to help the team as much as possible. … It makes it a little easier when you’re put in good spots and you have people surrounding you that are so good.”
But now Chapman is closing in on a return. The lefty free agent-to-be was struggling before he went on the IL May 24. Manager Aaron Boone said he will be activated after he makes a third and final appearance on the rehab circuit Tuesday night, this time with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after two one-inning, scoreless outings with Double-A Somerset.
Holmes figures to remain the primary closer, but Boone has left open the possibility of matching him up earlier against a tough stretch of hitters.
“Clay certainly earned that closer role,” Boone said, “although there has been nights, I don’t know if we’ve done it since Chappy’s been down, but there’s been many a night where he could’ve been in there in the eighth inning just based on the matchups and I would’ve closed with Wandy [Peralta] or whoever was available.
“So those things have been in play already. … The biggest thing is I want to get Chappy in a good place delivery-wise and throwing the ball like he’s capable of. If we get that, then we’ve got another back-end monster to mix in.”
The monster in Holmes has come out since the Yankees acquired him from Pittsburgh last July 26. He was 5-7 with a 5.57 ERA across 91 games in parts of four seasons. But he took off with the Yankees, going 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA across 25 games in 2021.
The 29-year-old righthander arrived for this latest game at 4-0 with 12 saves in 13 chances and a 0.52 ERA — the best among AL relievers and second in the majors.
“I definitely think it’s a combination of things,” Holmes said, “but obviously throwing the sinker more and just trusting it and seeing how good it can play in the zone has been one of the biggest factors of it. I think just with throwing the sinker more, there’s been a little more consistency and it’s gotten a little better. It’s my biggest strength.”
He went on a career-best run of 31 1/3 innings without allowing a run from April 9 through June 18. Holmes broke Mariano Rivera’s franchise record in the process by not yielding a run in 29 straight relief outings.
“To be in any category or mentioned [with] his name is definitely an honor,” Holmes said.
Holmes has handled the ninth as well as he handled any earlier inning.
“Honestly, the biggest difference is getting your hand and your glove checked [by the umpires] before the inning rather than after,” Holmes said. “Once you get out there, it all kind of feels the same to me.”
He said the Yankees “need a healthy Chappy,” and he’s fine with any role going forward.
“Whatever that situation looks like, I know that they’re going to make the best decision for us to win here,” Holmes said. “… As long as we keep winning and doing our thing, I’m good with it.”