After six seasons, 187 appearances and an untold number of bus rides in the minor leagues, former Georgia Tech pitcher Sam Clay earned his first major league appearance Wednesday.
Clay delivered for the Washington Nationals, doing so against the Braves – the team that he had grown up rooting for. In the Braves’ 7-6 win over the Nationals in Washington, Clay contributed a scoreless fourth inning for the Nationals, retiring the top of the Braves’ order with strikeouts of reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, no less.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Clay told Washington media after the game. “I grew up a Braves fan. I’ve seen all these guys play for quite a while. It was a little crazy, just because you see these guys on TV and then you’re standing up on the mound and you see them standing there. They just look like giants. But it was incredible to face the Braves in my debut.”
Manager Dave Martinez offered his approval.
“That’s what this game is about, getting chances and succeeding, and he did that today,” Martinez said. “He’s going to be a big part of our future, no doubt about it.”
Clay, a Buford High grad, was drafted in the fourth round by Minnesota in 2014 after a standout sophomore season at Tech. A lefty, Clay worked his way up the Twins chain, leading the minor leagues in groundball rate in 2019 (his most recent season in the minors, as there was no minor-league play in 2020) with no home runs allowed. Opposing hitters also hit .283 off him at Triple-A in 2019.
After the 2020 season, the Twins didn’t add him to their 40-man roster, allowing Clay to become a free agent. Expecting another team to sign him to a minor-league contract, Washington signed him to a major-league deal in November, an agreement that he said at the time “shell-shocked” him.
Clay was to start the season at Triple-A, but was called up when the Nationals were shorthanded by positive COVID-19 tests and quarantines. All of which led to his Wednesday debut, with his father, sister, brother, girlfriend and a family friend in the stands.
“It doesn’t matter how many people are there; I can hear my dad in the crowd over anybody,” Clay said.
After Acuna got on base, Clay got a ground out from Ozzie Albies, Then Clay fell behind Freeman 3-0 before striking him out looking with a breaking ball.
“It felt pretty good to get the first strikeout, especially against such a great hitter like Freddie,” Clay said.
He likewise got in a 3-0 hole to Ozuna before striking him out swinging with another breaking ball for the last out of the inning.
“It’s a great moment,” Clay said. “It took a long time to get here. I’m just very glad I could get this first one out of the way. Keep working hard, keep building on what I’ve done so far.”
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