The Phillies have claimed left-handed reliever Sam Clay off waivers from the Nationals, per a team announcement. Clay, who was designated for assignment by the Nats last week, has been optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the time being.
The 29-year-old Clay is a former fourth-round pick of the Twins who has spent the past two seasons with the Nationals organization. The southpaw inked a Major League deal with the Nats before ever pitching in a big league game, with the Washington front office likely drawn to his solid minor league season in 2019, which featured an eye-popping 71.2% ground-ball rate.
Clay, however, hasn’t panned out as hoped in D.C. He debuted last season with 45 innings of 5.60 ERA ball and, while his 60.1% grounder rate was brilliant (as advertised), his 15.9% strikeout rate and 10.3% walk rate were both sub-par. Clay has had a decent run in Triple-A Rochester, where he as a 3.10 ERA with a 21.7% strikeout rate, 7.6% walk rate and 64.5% ground-ball rate through 20 1/3 innings, but he’s been hit hard in 4 1/3 Major League frames so far. Overall, he has a 6.02 ERA in 49 1/3 MLB innings, all coming out of the Nationals’ bullpen.
Clay has a minor league option remaining beyond the current season, high-end ground-ball tendencies and a decent track record in the upper minors, so he’s a sensible enough flier for the Phillies to take. Then again, with so much of Clay’s game predicated on forcing opponents to beat the ball into the ground, a Phillies team that ranks 27th in the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved both third base and shortstop (and 29th overall in DRS) isn’t necessarily the best fit. That’s not to say a ground-ball pitcher can’t succeed on their staff, of course, but Clay’s best trait isn’t necessarily going to be supported by the fundamental makeup of his new club’s roster.