SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres traded closer Brad Hand, there was little doubt that Kirby Yates was the right guy to take over the job. He was their eighth-inning set-up guy -- and a possible All-Star Game snub -- who had notched a 1.43 ERA in 39 appearances.
Thanks to his versatility, he was also one of their most frequently used relievers. But since taking over the closer role, he's seen a decrease of opportunity, meaning a decrease of appearances.
That might be part of the reason for his recent ninth-inning struggles, as Yates gave up a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning in his second straight appearance en route to a 4-3 loss to the D-backs on Sunday.
Yates, who held a 1.35 ERA in the ninth inning, had given up just three homers all year prior to Sunday. However, after giving up a go-ahead homer to Rene Rivera against the Angels on Wednesday, Yates wasn't able to bounce back. He gave up a go-ahead solo shot to A.J. Pollock, who sent a 94-mph fastball into the left-field seats for his 16th homer of the year.
Neither of Yates' last two appearances were save situations, but both resulted in tie-breaking home runs that led to losses. It's something that could be attributed to adjusting to his new spot in the bullpen, a role in which he's not appearing as often.
"I was pitching a lot before and I've had a few days off in between every appearance here lately," Yates said. "But it is what it is. It's a new role, and trying to fit you into that role and get you into situations that you're supposed to be pitching in doesn't always work out."
Manager Andy Green also acknowledged that Yates' recent struggles could be chalked up to less use, and didn't rule out that the club may also use Yates in the eighth inning while still in a closing role -- something they also utilized with Hand earlier in the season.
"His workload has gone way down," Green said. "In so doing, sometimes guys have a hard time finding the ability to stay as sharp as they were normally. We'll try to see what we can do to maybe change that. If that means some other guys get pushed to the ninth inning from time to time, it's honestly more about getting Kirby in situations where he's good to pitch."
Green noted that a lot of what made Yates so valuable was his ability to be used in a variety of ways and innings. Yates said he's happy to do whatever the manager needs him to do, but also said it was give and take.
"I like to get out there, but on the other hand I want the ball in the ninth inning too," he said. "It's not a perfect world. There's some adjustments that need to be made at times and I just didn't execute a pitch tonight."
Hunter Renfroe got the scoring started early with a blast off D-backs starter Zack Greinke, scorching a 437-foot two-run homer over both bullpens in the first inning. He tacked on another run with a single in the sixth inning that gave the Padres the lead, finishing the day with three RBIs.
What's most impressive though is how much progression Renfroe continues to show against right-handed pitchers this season. Last season, it would've been pretty unusual to see Renfroe in the starting lineup against a right-handed pitcher, especially one with a reputation like Greinke's. He posted a .202/.244/.393 line against righties in 2017, compared to the .316/.392/.684 line he slugged against left-handed pitchers.
Renfroe's 2018 campaign is much more balanced. He's batting .244 against right-handers, and he attributes it to a slight change he made in his batting stance.
"I opened up just a hair," he said. "My stance back in college was wide open and I strided back towards the plate. I got back to more of a squared-off approach and I went back to my open stance a bit and started seeing the ball better."
Renfroe was taken out of the game in the ninth inning as part of a double-switch, but had taken a 97-mph fastball from Archie Bradley off the forearm in the inning before. Renfroe had X-rays on his arm, but they came back negative. Both Green and Renfroe described his arm as "sore," but the expectation is Renfroe will be fine.
KENNEDY CLEAN IN BEST START YET
Brett Kennedy strung together the best start of his young career, recording two earned runs on six hits and three strikeouts in five innings. Although still somewhat shaky with his command, he managed to skate around missed locations and limit the damage of a powerful D-backs offense, with help from a new variation on his changeup.
"[It's] just something you can throw a little bit harder to get more movement and get guys off the fastball a little bit more," Kennedy said.
It worked, aside from the hanging changeup that David Peralta lined over the right-field wall in the top of the third. Other than that, the biggest mistake Kennedy made was walking lead-off batter Daniel Descalso in the second inning after being gifted with a two-run lead. Descalso would come around to score two batters later on Jeff Mathis' RBI single.
"[The] changeup there, that really played well for him," Green said. "I know Peralta went down and got it, but he spent a lot of time in that bullpen session working on the changeup, and it played pretty well. He got some strikeouts going beneath the zone. That walk to Descalso is the at-bat we'd like to have back."
CAN'T CASH IN
After Trey Wingenter -- appearing for the first time since departing mid-game Thursday after taking a comebacker off his pitching arm -- gave up a game-tying solo shot to Descalso in the top of the eighth inning, the Padres had a big chance to counter. San Diego loaded the bases with two outs against Bradley, bringing Cory Spangenberg to the plate. Spangenberg struck out.
After an off-day Monday, the Padres head to Colorado for a three-game set against the Rockies beginning Tuesday at 5:40 p.m. PT. Left-hander Robbie Erlin has been strong since he moved from the bullpen to the rotation at the beginning of the month. He starts for San Diego, opposite Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson.