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Yates clinches '19 saves title: 'It's humbling'

@AJCassavell
September 26, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Ahead of a busy offseason, the entire Padres roster, it seems, is littered with question marks. But at the back end of the bullpen, things sure feel stable. The sport's most prolific closer in 2019 resides in San Diego. Kirby Yates already leads all Major League relievers

SAN DIEGO -- Ahead of a busy offseason, the entire Padres roster, it seems, is littered with question marks.

But at the back end of the bullpen, things sure feel stable. The sport's most prolific closer in 2019 resides in San Diego.

Kirby Yates already leads all Major League relievers with a 1.19 ERA and a 1.31 FIP. On Thursday, he clinched the 2019 saves title, becoming the first Padres reliever since Trevor Hoffman in 1998 to lead the Majors in saves. Yates' 41 saves put him four ahead of Aroldis Chapman and Roberto Osuna.

"It's a cool accomplishment," Yates said. "Any time you lead the Major Leagues, that's neat in itself. It'll be cool to tell my son and my daughter that their dad actually did something. I don't know that they'll believe me. But I think that'll be the coolest part. Ten or 15 years down the road, it might mean a little more."

Yates is merely the latest in a long line of successful Padres closers. Previous National League saves leaders in San Diego include Hoffman, Heath Bell, Mark Davis and Rollie Fingers. In Hoffman, Fingers and Goose Gossage, the Padres boast three Hall of Fame closers.

"He's just followed the tradition," said pitching coach Darren Balsley. “He’s carried it on.”

That legacy clearly isn't lost on Yates, a journeyman who arrived in San Diego in 2017 and quickly became one of the sport's most dominant relievers.

"To be a part of that group, it's humbling," Yates said. "There's been a progression over the last three years, and this is what it's led to. It's really been a lot of hard work, and it hasn't been just me. There's a lot of people involved in this."

Next up: A potential contract extension. Yates is 32 and is under contract through next season. But both sides have expressed optimism at a potential extension that would keep him in San Diego for the next few years while the team enters its window for contention. Earlier this week, Yates confirmed his desire to stay.

"I just want something that's fair on both sides," Yates said. "That's all anyone can ask for. I have to do what's best for my family. They come first. Honestly, I'd love to stay here, my wife is the same way. There are other factors. ... So I honestly have no clue. The dialogue's always been that they like me, I like them. Other than that, that's really all I can say."

It's unclear what an extension might like look, given Yates' age and the general volatility of relief pitchers. But the objectives for the two sides are the same. The Padres feel as though they’re on the brink of an extended run at contention. Yates wants to anchor the back end of that bullpen for the start of that run.

Thus far, Yates has filled that role flawlessly. He has posted a 2.31 ERA in three seasons with the Padres, and he's thrived since being handed the closer role last July when Brad Hand was traded to Cleveland. On top of Yates' performance, Balsley touted the impact of Yates on a bullpen overflowing with unproven high-upside arms.

"He's off the charts," Balsley said. "He's doing homework. He's working harder than anybody else, being a team leader. Kirby's the entire package. It's not luck that got him here. It's not just one pitch, either. It's not just, 'Kirby developed a great split and became great.' He's the whole combination."

Yates had bounced through four organizations by the time the Padres claimed him in April 2017. It was around that time that Yates was developing his signature splitter, which has become one of the sport's elite wipeout pitches.

Yates' transformation story began in the offseason following an unsuccessful 2016 campaign with the Yankees. He moved from his native Hawaii to Arizona and overhauled his workout regimen. Yates committed himself to studying hitters and revamped his preparation.

"That changed my mentality," Yates said. "You're a big leaguer, you need to act like a big leaguer. That's one of the things that changed everything. I stopped accepting the fact that I was just in the big leagues, and I finally grasped that I wanted to be a big leaguer."

Not only is Yates a big leaguer -- now he's a big league saves king, too. And if both sides have it their way, he will be saving games in San Diego for a few more years, and preferably a few in October as well.

Noteworthy
Wil Myers pinch-hit in the top of the ninth inning of Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Dodgers, a day after he'd exited a game early because he felt lightheaded. Myers experienced a fainting episode on Sunday night at Yates' charity event, and the Padres have played it safe with him since.

On Thursday, however, Myers said he felt fine, and he went through a series of pregame tests before he was cleared by team doctors. Interim manager Rod Barajas expects Myers to be available this weekend in Arizona.

"He's full-go," Barajas said. "He did a bunch of work today. He ran, hit, did everything he needed to do. [The trainers] were like, 'He's clear to play.'"

• The Padres drew 26,285 to their home finale at Petco Park on Thursday afternoon, bringing their season attendance to 2,396,399. That's an increase of 2,618 fans per game from their numbers a season ago.

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