Yates stepping up to fill Padres' closer role
With Hand traded to Cleveland, righty following similar path to former teammate
PHILADELPHIA -- As if their success stories didn't already run parallel enough: Kirby Yates is the new Brad Hand in the Padres' bullpen.
In the wake of Thursday's trade that sent Hand to Cleveland, Yates is expected to step in and fill the highest-leverage relief spots. Generally, that means he'll serve as closer. But the Padres also plan to use Yates in the seventh and eighth innings if the matchups dictate as much, like they did with Hand.
"I try and treat it the same," Yates said of pitching the ninth. "The only difference is: If you get three outs, you get to go shake the catcher's hand."
For Yates, it's the latest twist in a successful run since he joined the Padres as an April 2017 waiver claim. The similarities between his Padres career and Hand's are hard to ignore.
In 2016, Hand came to San Diego as an April waiver claim. He developed a new pitch, a slider, which became one of the nastiest in the sport. A year and a half later, after the Padres traded Brandon Maurer at the Deadline, Hand assumed the role of closer.
Now it's Yates -- who has developed an unhittable splitter -- taking over as closer following a Trade Deadline swap. He's thrilled at the opportunity, but not necessarily the circumstances. He and Hand shared adjacent lockers in the Padres' clubhouse, and they had developed a tight bond during their time in San Diego.
"You're not just losing a teammate," Yates said. "You're losing a friend, too, so that always sucks. You know it's part of the game -- it's just tough to deal with over the course of a career."
To further their parallels, now it's Yates' name being tossed around in trade speculation. It's easy to see why. He owns a 1.43 ERA in 39 appearances this season, and he's under team control through 2020.
"I like it here," Yates said. "I'd like to stay here. But I don't control anything. It's the only place in my career where I've had a role, so obviously I like it -- staff, organization, everybody's been phenomenal."
Yates isn't the only Padres reliever drawing interest. Veteran right-hander Craig Stammen has a year and a half left on a very affordable deal.
"Everyone had been talking about Brad getting traded for forever, and I'm still shocked it happened," Stammen said. "There will be shock no matter what happens, if I'm traded or not traded. You just try to be where your feet are."
Easier said than done, Yates added.
For Yates, the ninth inning isn't exactly a new experience. He has notched two saves already this season, and he's flipped places with Hand on four occasions based on matchups.
Now it's likely that Yates and Stammen share those late-inning duties, with Yates getting the ninth more often than not.
"I've never prepared for an inning," Yates said. "The way I prepare is I prepare for a lineup, know who I'm going to face, just make sure I'm ready and when the guys come up who I'm facing, I know how to get them out. I don't change any of that. I'm going to keep doing it the same way."