Kirby Yates: Determined to build on last season

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Kirby Yates took an interesting path to the Padres’ bullpen last year.

The reliever bounced between the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Angels before joining the Padres. A number of setbacks kept Yates from reaching his potential. Unable to find his niche, he was frequently placed on waivers and left without a job.

San Diego claimed him off waivers on April 26 of last year with the feeling that he might be able to revitalize his pitching career at Petco Park. The 30-year-old, originally from Lihue, Hawaii, took a big step forward in the Padres’ bullpen last year as one of the most reliable arms in the later innings.

The Padres were pleased by his consistency and production on the mound. Yates went 4-5 with a 3.72 ERA, 87 strikeouts, 14.07 K/9 innings, and a 1.10 WHIP in just 55 2/3 innings pitched in 2017. He led the Padres bullpen in holds with 20, and was the primary set-up man before the team handed the ball over to Brad Hand in the ninth. He also posted a stellar 1.67 ERA in the confines of Petco Park.

Yates features a four-pitch arsenal, including a four-seam fastball topping out at 94 mph, a slider, a changeup with natural sink action and, on rare occasions, a knuckle curve.

His emergence last season opened the eyes of Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley and bullpen coach Doug Bochtler. Yates relies on his four-seam fastball that rises in the zone for strikeouts and produces a high number of fly-ball outs. His second-best offering, a slider, results in lots of swings and misses. For the most part, Yates is a fly-ball pitcher at his best against righties, as evidenced by their paltry .190 batting average against him.

Yates is determined to build on his 2017 season, and spoke to me about his excitement for the upcoming baseball season.

“I’m ready to get started this season and build off what we accomplished last year,” he said.

His offseason was filled with many loving moments and joyful times spent with his newborn baby girl, Oaklee, and his wife, Ashlee, among family and friends in San Diego and Hawaii. The rest of his time was spent in the weight room as he prepared for the season.

Yates increased his overall strength and conditioning; he hopes the offseason regimen will sustain him throughout the 2018 campaign. “I primarily focused on lifting (on) the lower half of my body, which will help me stay strong through the entire season,” he said.

“Hopefully in the long haul, I can be at my best all the way up until October,” he added.

Yates’ new contract is worth $1,062,500 for the 2018 season.

The one-year deal will give San Diego a great look at his value in the bullpen and an indication of his long-range future in the majors. If he carries over his success from last year, the Padres will consider holding onto this guy. The rebuilding franchise might see something special in his pitching ability for the backend of the bullpen. For now, he is a guarantee to be in the Padres’ bullpen on Opening Day, March 29.

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