DENVER -- Kirby Yates' tenure as closer is off to an inauspicious start.The typically sure-handed Padres reliever surrendered a walk-off two-run homer to Ian Desmond on Thursday afternoon, as San Diego dropped its rubber match in Colorado, 4-3. It's the third go-ahead home run Yates has allowed in the ninth
DENVER -- Kirby Yates' tenure as closer is off to an inauspicious start.
The typically sure-handed Padres reliever surrendered a walk-off two-run homer to Ian Desmond on Thursday afternoon, as San Diego dropped its rubber match in Colorado, 4-3. It's the third go-ahead home run Yates has allowed in the ninth inning in the Padres' last eight games.
Yates' ERA still sits at a minuscule 2.16, but it's jumped by 67 points since the start of August. He struck out two in the ninth and surrendered a bloop single to Trevor Story before Desmond crushed a 1-0 splitter into the left-field seats.
"That's the only mistake I felt I made," Yates said. "A one-run lead in this ballpark, that's all it takes -- a bloop and a blast."
Following the late-July trade that sent Brad Hand to Cleveland, Yates took over as San Diego's primary ninth-inning option. His appearances have been sporadic since, with few close leads to protect.
Yates has surrendered five homers all season and three have come since last Wednesday. The Angels' Rene Rivera and the D-backs' A.J. Pollock took him deep last week in San Diego. But the Padres insist those struggles have little to do with his transition to closer.
In reality, Yates looked excellent for three batters. He finished his strikeouts of Nolan Arenado and Gerardo Parra with filthy split-finger fastballs. Story's one-out single had a hit probability of just 26 percent, according to Statcast™.
"I've got a ton of confidence in Kirby," Padres manager Andy Green said. "He's going to be good, and he's been good all season long. … Just look at the at-bats against Arenado and Parra -- his split's good. He just left one up."
Such is the nature of the closer role: Yates' final pitch is the only one that'll be remembered.
"You don't have somebody coming in behind you to bail you out," Yates said. "That's the only difference, I think. But I'd rather have the ball in my hand, be in control."
Hunter Renfroe homered in the sixth inning, and starter Joey Lucchesi was sharp over six innings of two-run ball before second baseman Jose Pirela put the Padres on top with a two-run single in the seventh. Pirela finished 3-for-5, taking full advantage of a newfound opportunity.
Having struggled for much of the season, Pirela seemed hard-pressed to find much playing time before the series began. But Christian Villanueva landed on the disabled list Thursday with a fractured right middle finger, and William Myers was out of the lineup with a lacerated nose.
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The Padres head to Los Angeles this weekend, where they'll face a trio of lefty Dodgers starters. The righty-hitting Pirela -- whose long-term roster spot remains tenuous -- is going to get further chances to prove himself.
"He played well today," Green said. "... It makes a lot of sense that you're going to see him in there, especially if he continues to have good at-bats."
ADJUSTMENT PAYS DIVIDENDS
Not one to show much emotion, Lucchesi let loose a bit in the bottom of the third inning. He put men on the corners with no one out, but worked out of trouble with a pair of ground balls -- including an inning-ending double play. He pumped his fist into his glove and let out a shout as he headed toward the dugout.
In Lucchesi's eyes, his six solid innings were the product of between-starts work with pitching coach Darren Balsley and bullpen coach Doug Bochtler. They had noticed a difference in Lucchesi's arm angle, based on the pitch he was throwing.
When he threw his "churve" -- a changeup/curveball hybrid -- he did so by coming directly over the top. When he threw his fastball, his angle dropped closer to three-quarters. On Thursday, he made a point not to drop down at all.
"[Different] pitches, same arm slot," Lucchesi said. "I tried to carry that into the game. They swung through a lot of fastballs and churves."
Lucchesi allowed five hits and struck out six, and he filled up the strike zone all afternoon. It was an impressive response to the five runs he allowed in four innings against Arizona on Friday. He faced 23 batters and threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of them. He was only removed in the top of the seventh to allow Myers to pinch-hit.
MYERS ON THE MEND
Myers drew a crucial walk during the seventh-inning rally that culminated with Pirela's two-run single. It was his first plate appearance since taking a ground ball to the face during batting practice on Wednesday, when he was sent to the hospital for stitches and further testing.
A day later, Myers said he was experiencing some congestion and headaches, and his nose was swollen. But he expects to return to the starting lineup Friday in Los Angeles.
"That's the plan, just jump back on it, hopefully get over there at third again and pretend like it never happened," Myers said.
Since 1954, only two catchers age 37 or older have finished a season with at least 150 plate appearances and a batting average above .300. Don Slaught batted .313 in 1996, and Greg Myers hit .307 in 2003.
A.J. Ellis -- who will go by "Dad" this weekend on his Players' Weekend uniform -- went 2-for-4 on Thursday, bringing his average this season to .287. Because he's playing sparingly as the Padres' backup catcher, Ellis doesn't appear to be tiring either.
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YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
During Lucchesi's third-inning escape act, the Rockies attempted a safety squeeze with pitcher Kyle Freeland. He bunted up the first-base line, but Eric Hosmer charged and read the play perfectly. Hosmer threw to third, where David Dahl wandered too far off the bag. Third baseman Cory Spangenberg chased Dahl down, as he attempted to scamper home.
The Padres head to Los Angeles, where they'll open a three-game set against the Dodgers on Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT as Players' Weekend begins. Veteran left-handers Clayton Richard (aka "Clay Clay") and Rich Hill ("D. Mountain") are set to square off, while Ellis returns to where it all began for him as a big leaguer. It's been a rough second half for Richard, who owns a 7.84 ERA since the break. He served as a reliable innings-eater in the early part of the season, but he's struggled to do that lately.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.