This may shock some readers, but a Pirates pitching prospect had his progress stalled by a major injury.
In Clay Holmes' case, it came in Spring Training of 2014, when the 2011 draftee had Tommy John surgery. After an abbreviated schedule in 2015, the tall righty already has a career high in innings pitched in 2016, and has gotten himself back on the major-league radar.
I talked with Holmes on Saturday; here's the transcript, edited lightly for length and clarity.
At this point, are you mostly beyond recovery from surgery and back to just regular old pitching?
Yeah, it's my first full year back. It's going as well as it could be as far as a health standpoint. I've made all my starts. I've stayed healthy. My arm's been great, responded well. Just to make this first full year staying healthy has been a big step forward for the whole process.
Is there anything you do differently now because of your health?
Not really. You fine-tune your five-day (schedule) and make some tweaks here and there accordingly, but for the most part it's the same. You've got to nail down your routine and stick with that.
You've got a lot going on all at once, it seems -- the jump to Double-A, a larger workload and getting back from the recovery process. How do you deal with that?
It was a big adjustment. A lot of learning went on. Between learning my body, learning the routine of normal baseball again after rehabbing so much, learning how to get hitters out, there was a huge learning curve there, which was great. There were a lot of lessons learned early on, and I think I've adjusted well. ... As far as a learning experience, this year has been great.
What specifically have you been learning? What are you referring to?
Pitching here in Double-A, my five-day, my routine here, my game planning, the hitters, my delivery. All those different things. It's always something new. It's not one specific thing, just everything as a whole.
How have your pitches been coming along?
Good. I started out the year with just a four-seamer. I got my two-seamer back in the middle of the year. That’s one thing I’ve developed and been working on. I’m still throwing the curveball and the changeup. They’ve come along very well. I’m learning how to use my stuff and how to attack hitters with my pitches.
What is it like getting closer to the majors, up to where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and see yourself getting into a major-league rotation?
That's definitely one of the realizations that comes with Double-A. You see a lot of the hitters you face get called up and see guys playing in the big leagues that you've faced. It becomes more real, and definitely for me this year it's something I've taken hold of and realized how close I really am. You take everything that much more seriously and start to see some light there.
Is getting more experience especially important for you, as a guy drafted out of high school with maybe a little less high-level innings under your belt?
That’s why I think it was a big thing for me to stay healthy and pitch all year and see where that took me. There’s so much I’ve learned about myself pitching that you don’t really get when you’re rehabbing and you’re not out on the mound. That’s been the biggest thing for me this year.