DENVER -- Two years in a row, the Padres have plucked a castoff reliever from the waiver wire in April, only to see him blossom into a bona fide bullpen weapon by midseason.A year ago, it was Brad Hand. This season, it's Kirby Yates.The 30-year-old right-hander has been a revelation
DENVER -- Two years in a row, the Padres have plucked a castoff reliever from the waiver wire in April, only to see him blossom into a bona fide bullpen weapon by midseason.
A year ago, it was Brad Hand. This season, it's Kirby Yates.
The 30-year-old right-hander has been a revelation since his arrival in San Diego, posting a 1.93 ERA with 43 strikeouts in just 28 1/3 innings.
"[I'm] comfortable," Yates said of pitching for the Padres. "They've allowed me to be myself. I had some things that I wanted to do within myself, that I thought I needed to do. They've let me do that and helped me along the way."
The best example, Yates says, is his split-finger fastball, a critical third pitch in his arsenal. Yates had spent time with the Rays, Yankees and Angels, but the Padres were the first team to truly nurture his splitter.
With his recent success, Yates may be pitching himself into position as a trade candidate ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. (General manager A.J. Preller said Sunday that he's received calls on a number of his relievers.)
In any case, Yates' role has grown recently, and he's begun to see time in some high-leverage situations.
"Anybody in the bullpen wants those kinds of situations, where the game's tight," Yates said. "You want the game in your hand. I enjoy that pressure. I think everybody wants that situation. That's when it becomes fun."
Yates' presence toward the back end has played no small role in the bullpen's revival over the past month and a half. Typically, the seventh and eighth innings had been reserved for Hand and Ryan Buchter -- both left-handers. Yates offers a nice contrast as a righty, who has limited right-handed hitters to a .502 OPS in 72 plate appearances.
"He's settled into a nice spot here," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's settled into a place where he knows he's got a coaching staff that believes in him and likes having him on the mound. Sometimes the transference of belief from the coaching staff to a player can catapult him to another level."
Yates says he's also put baseball into its proper perspective this season. That's because his wife, Ashlee, gave birth to the couple's first daughter, Oaklee, on Saturday. Yates returned to the club Monday and whiffed Nolan Arenado after an eight-pitch battle in the eighth inning.
"Baseball's just baseball; there's a lot of other things that are more important in life," Yates said. "Once my wife got pregnant, I kind of realized that. That's another thing that's helped me this year. I come to work every day, but when I leave, I leave work at the field. I haven't done a good job of that in the past, but I've done that this year."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.