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Yates closing games depending on matchups

MLB.com @AJCassavell

MIAMI -- By now, it's unofficially official: Kirby Yates is the Padres' part-time closer.

Make no mistake, Brad Hand is still the Padres' primary ninth-inning guy. But Saturday marked the third time in 10 games that Hand has pitched the eighth and recorded a hold. Yates finished all three of those games.

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MIAMI -- By now, it's unofficially official: Kirby Yates is the Padres' part-time closer.

Make no mistake, Brad Hand is still the Padres' primary ninth-inning guy. But Saturday marked the third time in 10 games that Hand has pitched the eighth and recorded a hold. Yates finished all three of those games.

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Since the start of the year, Padres manager Andy Green had spoken of his desire to flip his setup man and closer when the matchups dictated as much. Lately, he has gotten the chance to put it into action, and it has resulted in Padres victories all three times. Yates downplayed the switch.

"You're still trying to get three outs," Yates said. "When you pitch the eighth inning, it's as easy to fail in the eighth inning as it is in the ninth inning. Only difference is: You give up the lead in the ninth inning, the game's over."

It helps, of course, that both Hand and Yates are bona fide All-Star candidates and two of the best relief pitchers in the National League. In Sunday's 3-1 win over the Marlins, Yates pitched the eighth and Hand the ninth. Both were dominant. Hand now owns a 1.89 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. Yates had posted a 1.08 mark with 31 strikeouts in 25 frames.

Video: SD@MIA: Hand fans Brinson to lock down his 19th save

They're also entirely different pitchers. Hand is a lefty who relies heavily on his breaking ball. Yates is a righty who hardly uses his breaking ball.

So what, exactly, dictates when Hand pitches the eighth and Yates the ninth? Take Saturday for example. The heart of the Marlins' order -- J.T. Realmuto, Justin Bour and Brian Anderson -- was due up in the eighth inning. Among those three, only Bour is a lefty. Green called on Hand anyway.

"It has to be a decided advantage," Green said of using Hand in the eighth. "And it's not splits, because Kirby gets lefties out. It's profiles. J.T. Realmuto, for instance, is a guy that hasn't handled lefties this year, has hit righties very well and doesn't typically handle lefty spin. That's Brad Hand. Justin Bour is an elevated fastball hitter? Well, Kirby Yates is an elevated fastball pitcher. It's not just right versus left. It's a little bit more in depth than that."

There's a human element to it, too. Green had always planned on flipping Hand and Yates. But until Yates' recent run of success in the ninth, the Padres didn't know how he'd respond to pitching in the closer role.

In theory, as Yates said, three outs are three outs. In practice, any reliever will tell you it's not quite so simple in the ninth. Now that Yates has proven himself, Green might begin to employ the strategy a bit more frequently.

"There's value in having gotten it done," Green said. "And there's value for us as an organization that somebody else has done it. It's not just Brad. The last three outs -- they're different. Anybody that's stood on the mound and gotten the last three outs of a game knows there's a difference."

Yates, perhaps to his credit, has always insisted that the difference is negligible. Ultimately, that's probably a necessary mindset for success as a closer.

"You can come in the game in the sixth or seventh inning, two guys on, and you get out of it, and that's a more nerve-wracking situation than a clean inning -- and maybe more important," Yates said.

Of course, Yates can still enjoy being on the mound in the ninth when the game is decided.

"If you're a bullpen guy, that's what you should strive for," Yates said. "That's what you should want. You've got the ball in your hands to win the game."

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

San Diego Padres, Kirby Yates