ST. LOUIS — The frustrating thing for the Yankees Friday night is Clay Holmes was starting to look like himself again. The closer who was dominant in the first half of the season has now allowed runs to score in back-to-back appearances and blown the lead in four of his last 10 appearances. Friday night, however, he seemed to have the command of his sinker back only to get burned by Paul DeJong’s double to right field.
“Yeah, I definitely felt a lot better out there, but at the end of the day two runs scored and that’s really the only thing that matters,” Holmes said after the Yankees’ 4-3 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “Nights like this, I guess, are kind of tough. Especially when you do feel pretty good. You got to make the most of those, especially with the one-run lead.”
This is the first stretch of struggles Holmes has had with the Yankees since they acquired him at the trade deadline in 2021. He worked his way into the closer role with his ridiculously good start to the season. Through his first 38 appearances, Holmes had allowed two earned runs with six walks and 40 strikeouts. He has allowed nine earned runs and has walked six in the last 7.1 innings pitched over eight appearances.
The Yankee bullpen, which was brilliant to start the season, has taken some hits. Aroldis Chapman has struggled. Chad Green and Michael King, who had an All-Star-worthy first half, are both lost for the rest of the year with injuries.
Still, the Yankees’ bullpen has the second lowest ERA (2.93) in the majors and batting average against (.208), both behind the Astros.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone was adamant that Holmes is absolutely capable of getting through this stretch, but the Yankees may need to give the big right-hander a little bit of a breather. With 46 appearances this season, Holmes is tied for the 10th most in the majors. The Yankees bullpen was built to use Holmes not strictly as a closer, but like they did Friday night in the eighth inning against the heart of a lineup, particularly against the right-handed hitters.
So the Yankees may need to consider their options for closing games.
Friday night, Boone said he would have trusted Chapman to handle the ninth inning — and the bottom of the Cardinals lineup — if Holmes had gotten through the eighth.
“Hopefully, we all get rolling like we’re capable of,” Boone said of the bullpen. “Chappies obviously built momentum, hopefully we’ll get [Jonathan Loaisiga] going. Scotty [Effross] went in there and did a great job and we have Lou Trivino. [Albert] Abreu’s been throwing the ball really well. So we feel like we have a lot of options there.
“I’d love to get to that point where with Clay anytime there’s that really tough righty lane, whether it’s the eighth or ninth, if we can get everyone else kind of rolling we can get them in those best spots.”
If Boone wants to back off Holmes in the ninth inning, he has some options.
While he professed confidence in Chapman, who missed six weeks on the injured list as the Yankees also tried to correct his delivery, the inconsistencies have been too much to imagine him closing big games down the stretch. The 34-year-old has a career-high 4.81 ERA and has walked 17 in 24.1 innings pitched.
Trivino has 36 career saves with the A’s, including 22 last season and 10 this year. Trivino’s numbers scream ‘stay away’ in high-leverage spots, but they are deceptive. Scouts who watched him this year said he was the victim of the A’s bad defense after trading Matt Chapman and Matt Olson this spring. He’s looked good so far in his appearances with the Bombers.
Loaisiga, who came into this season as the heir apparent to Chapman, has been hit or miss this season. The right-hander has allowed 17 earned runs and walked 11 in 24 innings pitched, but has looked a little better since coming off the injured list after dealing with shoulder inflammation.
A less conventional, but more interesting option would be using rookie right-hander Ron Marinaccio, who not only has allowed just one run in his last 18 appearances, but showed the right mentality when he bounced right back after a rough outing vs. the Royals.