Saturday, April 15, 2023

How Do You Spell Relief? ...


Clay Holmes (Photo Credit: AP)

The answer is NOT Clay Holmes…

Once upon a time, there was a belief that General Manager Brian Cashman had uncovered another gem when he acquired Clay Holmes for a couple of prospects (Diego Castillo and Hoy Park) on July 26, 2021. Holmes joined the Yankees in dominating fashion and helped to usher out the Yankees career of former closer Aroldis Chapman. Many accolades were given to Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake for what appeared to be a rebirth of Holmes as an elite reliever.

Sadly, the realization sets in that Holmes is just the same marginal reliever he was in Pittsburgh. Friday night’s game should have been fun. It featured the first Major League home run by Anthony Volpe leading off the game, which was immediately followed by a home run from the reigning American League MVP and Yankees Team Captain, Aaron Judge. Nasty Nestor Cortes, Jr. delivered a quality start on the mound. All the Yankees needed was a strong effort from the bullpen to seal the win.

Nestor was finished after seven innings. He had held the Minnesota Twins to only two runs while scattering five hits. He did not walk any batters and struck out seven Twins. He should have been in line for the victory. With the Yankees leading 3-2 in the top of the Eighth, Manager Aaron Boone made the decision to bring Holmes in to face the heart of the Twins order. As he did frequently late last season, Holmes proved, once again, he was not ready for prime time. With a single, a walk, and a Carlos Correa double before an out was recorded, the one-run lead had become a one-run deficit. The Yankees were unable to mount a rally and fell to the Twins, 4-3.

Carlos Correa (Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP)

The loss dropped the Yankees to 8-6, good for third place, tied with the Baltimore Orioles, in the American League East, five games behind the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Clay Holmes’ implosion during the eighth inning is the latest example of why he should not be the trusted closer for America’s most storied franchise. I would never grill the man over one bad performance, but this is a continuation of struggles for Clay. During his four-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Holmes was 5-7 with a 5.57 ERA, giving up 112 hits in 119 2/3 innings while issuing 84 walks. Maybe this is just who he is.  While his overall numbers have been better with the Yankees, due primarily to his strong start with the team, his brief start to 2023 is trending closer to his Pittsburgh numbers. He is 0-1, 5.40 ERA, and has given up 6 hits, 4 runs, and has walked 4 batters in 6 2/3 innings. Sure, he has struck out 8 batters, but when you are giving up runs between those strikeouts, they do not really matter. 

I am not pining for Aroldis Chapman, but he has gotten off to a better start with the Kansas City Royals. I do not trust Chapman throughout a season at this stage of his career, so I am not saying I wish the Yankees had re-signed him. It is just frustrating that Holmes gave the Yankees false confidence that the closer’s role was secure when, in fact, it is not. Jonathan Lo├ísiga is the first reliever I think of about closing games, but he is on the Injured List with right elbow inflammation and no timetable for return.  Given his health history, he is probably not the best option to close. Ron Marinaccio…Michael King?  I like King’s current role with the team, but maybe it is his turn to step into the hot seat. 

I miss the days of Mariano Rivera when the closer’s role was the least concern on the team.

It is only April and there are one hundred forty-eight games to play. An 8-6 start is not the end of the World, and the Yankees have time to figure this out. Brian Cashman needs to find the closing answer because it is obvious Clay Holmes, is not it. I have never been a big fan of the closer-by-committee, preferring defined roles. However, I am in favor of whatever path leads to a World Series championship in October.

Anthony Volpe’s First Home Run…

Leading off Friday’s game, Anthony Volpe blasted a 1-0, 95.3 mph, four-seam fastball off Twins starter Louie Varland over the left field wall for his first Major League home run. It is always nice to get the first of anything out of the way. Hopefully, it is the start of a long, highly successful career in Pinstripes. I can easily remember the joys of lead-off home runs by the immortal Rickey Henderson. Volpe has a chance to bring the same feeling on a routine basis. 

Anthony Volpe (Photo Credit: Robert Sabo for the NY Post)

It was cool that the fan who caught the home run ball turned it over to Yankees Security with no demands. There are still decent people left in this World after all.

John Sterling, the longtime radio play-by-play announcer for the Yankees, broke out his latest home run call for Volpe. “Anthony Volpe! A spettacolo oggi! Ohhh the fox socks one to left!” ‘A spettacolo oggi’ translates to “A show today” or putting on a show today.  Volpe is Italian for fox. Not one of Sterling’s best, but it will work.

Volpe was all smiles after the home run, and it continued post-game which drew the ire of some fans. Seriously? I am not going to fret about a 21-year-old excited about his first home run at the game’s highest level. Let him enjoy the moment. It was a home game at Yankee Stadium, with family and friends in attendance. It was a meaningful home run at the time because it put the Yankees up by a run. The joy of the home run is an exciting moment (milestone) in Volpe’s brief career, and it sets the stage for greater accomplishments. So, let him smile after a heartbreaking loss. This is April, not October. 

Hello, I must be going…

Reliever Colten Brewer’s career with the Yankees was brief. Brewer will be remembered as the player who cost Estevan Florial his spot on the 40-man roster. After two scoreless appearances, Brewer served up four runs in 3 1/3 innings during Thursday’s 11-2 loss (the Jhony Brito disaster game) and has been designated for assignment.

Brewer was never going to be a long-term Yankee as the last pitcher on the staff, but I did expect him to go longer than he did. Maybe he clears waivers and is sent outright to Triple-A like Florial. Maybe not. I think he showed enough in his good appearances that someone will take a chance on him. Thursday’s game was just one of those games where nothing seemingly goes right. Brito screwed that game up long before Brewer entered. 

Greg Weissert was recalled from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Brewer’s place. 

The Rays finally lose…

Although I probably wish it was a team other than the Toronto Blue Jays to get the win, the Tampa Bay Rays’ dream of going 162-0 came to an end on Friday night. The Blue Jays won, 6-3, to drop the Rays to 13-1. 

Rays reliever Colin Poche (Photo Credit: Christopher Katsarov/AP)

The Yankees have too much of the season left to worry about the Rays’ hot start. It was inevitable they would lose. They have lost one of their starting pitchers, Jeffrey Springs, for an extended period (at least two months with ulnar neuritis in his pitching arm), and at the end of the day, the Yankees and, unfortunately for us, the Blue Jays, are better teams.

The evaporation of Left Field options…

Another longtime Yankees target for Left Field (at least in the eyes of the fan base) was removed when the Chicago Cubs signed Ian Happ to a three-year, $61 million extension. Bummer, I thought he was the best potential option for help at the trade deadline.

Good for Happ as it offers him financial security. I am surprised he chose not to test free agency given this was his walk year as he would have had solid appeal on an open market. 

This reinforces the Yankees should have been more aggressive trying to get a guy like Kyle Schwarber a few years ago before the Boston Red Sox and subsequently, the Philadelphia Phillies did. 

The Franchy Cordero comeback story has been fun, but I do not believe it is sustainable based on Cordero’s track record. It would be tremendous if Cordero truly has figured out the game to cut the strikeouts and fulfill his potential, but at face value, I do not like the odds.

Oswaldo Cabrera, despite last night’s ninth-inning hit into a double play that killed a potential rally, is an exciting, energetic talent, but I remain convinced versatility is his strongest suit even if he has played left field more than Aaron Hicks. 

It seems our desire for a strong closer and superior left fielder will continue its unrequited path.

As always, Go Yankees!

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