By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.— Altoona Curve pitcher Clay Holmes was valedictorian of his high school class in Slocomb, Alabama, so, obviously, he’s a bright guy. The Pirates think so, too.
He missed all of the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery and he’s only pitched in 48 professional games since being picked in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, but the Pirates already have him working in Double-A.
“It’s been a good experience for me, because I think I’ve made the most of it,” Holmes was saying recently of the Tommy John at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “It’s not easy, but it’s common these days.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and my body,” Holmes continued. “I’ve accomplished a lot the last two years that I might not have if I hadn’t had the surgery. It was a long, tough road, but there’ve been many positives from it.
“It’s been a great thing for my career.”
“We’re going to take good care of him because of the Tommy John,” Curve manager Joey Cora said. “His first start was a little shaky, it was cold. Ever since then, he’s improved.”
Despite his lack of game experience, Holmes has impressed Cora, who said the big pitcher (6-6, 238) is ready for the challenges the Class AA Eastern League presents.
“He’s growing as a pitcher, day by day,” Cora said. “It’s just a matter of experience and pitching every five days. He has all the tools to be a very good pitcher.”
After turning down a baseball scholarship to Auburn, Holmes spent his first pro season at short-season State College where current Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage was pitching coach. Holmes went 5-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts.
In 2013, at low-A West Virginia, Holmes was 5-6 with a 4.08 ERA in 25 starts.
He sat out all of 2014 after Tommy John Surgery, then came back to make three rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League last summer before pitching 23 innings in six starts at advanced-A Bradenton.
Even though he pitched only 36 innings a year ago, he was not surprised to start this season in Altoona.
“I was hoping to start here,” he said. “I think it’s a testimony to my maturity and the hard work I put in after the surgery.
“I thought I was ready and apparently (the Pirates) did, too.”
Besides his strong academic work and baseball ability, Holmes also was a fine basketball player in high school, averaging a double-double in both his junior and senior seasons.
“I probably could have played (basketball) at some small colleges, but baseball was my game, and I knew I wanted to sign,” he said.
Holmes had planned to major in biochemistry, if he had gone to college, but he makes no bones about his long-range goal.
“We all want to win a World Series in Pittsburgh,” he said. “That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”