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Hand, Yates looking to fill All-Star bullpen

MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN FRANCISCO -- It isn't often that a National League team has sent two relief pitchers to the All-Star Game. In the past five years, it's happened just once.

Then again, it isn't often that a National League team has two candidates like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- It isn't often that a National League team has sent two relief pitchers to the All-Star Game. In the past five years, it's happened just once.

Then again, it isn't often that a National League team has two candidates like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates.

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"A lot of teams would love to have what we have at the back end," said Padres bullpen coach Doug Bochtler. "That speaks a lot to their All-Star worthiness."

There's Hand, who fits the mold of a conventional All-Star reliever. He leads the National League in saves and has three seasons of All-Star caliber numbers to fall back on. Plus, he owns a 2.37 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 38 innings this year.

Then there's Yates, who has spent most of the year in a setup capacity. Generally speaking, setup men tend to get overlooked for All-Star spots. But this is 2018, the year of bullpenning. Plus, Yates is essentially the Padres' part-time closer anyway.

His numbers indicate he's All-Star worthy. In 30 relief innings, Yates has allowed three runs -- for a miniscule 0.90 ERA -- and 18 hits.

Of course, Hand knows a thing or two about making the All-Star Game as a setup man. He did so last season, while pitching the eighth inning before Brandon Maurer was dealt to Kansas City.

"Kirby's had a great season," Hand said. "He's got great numbers, and he definitely deserves to be an All-Star. Like with me last year, you don't usually see non-closers get to the All-Star Game. But he's deserved it. Hopefully both of us will be there. But we'll see what happens."

Video: SD@SF: Yates fans McCutchen, strands a runner in 8th

The harsh reality is this: it's extremely unlikely both make it to Washington, D.C. In 2013, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli made the All-Star team as relievers with Pittsburgh. Since then, only Fernando Rodney and A.J. Ramos have shared a bullpen and made an NL All-Star team together. That came in 2016, when Rodney was dealt from the Padres to the Marlins in the week before rosters were announced.

In the American League, the feat has only been slightly more frequent. The juggernaut bullpens of the Royals and Orioles both had two relievers apiece in 2015 and '16.

San Diego -- despite its history of excellent relievers -- has never had more than one selected. Long-time Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley recalled the success of Mike Adams, who boasted All-Star-caliber numbers as a setup man for the Padres from 2008-11. Adams never joined three-time All-Star Heath Bell at the Midsummer Classic.

"It's almost always closers, and past success has something to do with it," said Balsley. "But if the people who are responsible for voting really get deep into the numbers -- and they look at our guys' numbers -- there's not too many guys like Kirby.

"Unfair isn't the word. That's just how it's always been in the past. It's more that he gets overlooked than it is unfair."

Both Bochtler and Balsley were quick to expand upon the All-Star candidates in the Padres' bullpen. Craig Stammen, they both pointed out, owns a 2.02 ERA, and he's been relied upon to put out late-inning fires. Rookie Adam Cimber, both added, has chewed up 38 1/3 innings, and he's done so in a wide array of roles with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.72 FIP.

"The most deserving people should go, and I look around to what we've got, and I think all four of those guys should go," Bochtler said. "I've only got three votes. I'll have three votes for the bullpen, and all three of them are Padres."

Still, it'll most likely come down to Yates and Hand -- although there are still two weeks until All-Star rosters are unveiled, and that's plenty of time for the NL's bullpen dynamics to be shaken up. In fact, as things stand, Milwaukee -- with Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress -- probably has a better claim to dual relievers than the Padres.

But there is certainly no shortage of options in San Diego, and the two most prominent were both once left on the spring scrap heap. They were picked up by the Padres, Hand developed an unhittable slider, Yates developed an unhittable splitter, and a couple years later, both rank among the game's elite relievers.

"We're both waiver claims, and we both learned a new pitch here, so it's pretty similar," Hand said. "That's kind of cool."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Brad Hand, Kirby Yates