Healthy once again, Yates ready to fortify Rangers' bullpen

March 3rd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Last season, came into Spring Training with the Braves having a lot of doubts. Could he get through a full big league season healthy? If he could do that, could he even contribute to a big league team anymore?

Now, all those doubts are gone.

Yates ultimately had a bounce-back season in 2023, logging a 3.28 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings (61 appearances) out of the Braves' bullpen. That was after injuries -- including Tommy John in '21 -- limited the right-hander to just 11 1/3 innings of work from '20-'22.

It wasn’t perfect, but he showed that he could still do this.

“I'm coming here confident,” said Yates signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Rangers this offseason. “My confidence level is a lot better than what it was last year. I'm coming in here expecting to be really good again.”

Yates’ 2023 season was his first fully healthy year since ‘19, when he led baseball in saves (41) with the Padres. With San Diego, he posted a 1.19 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings, earning his first All-Star appearance in the process.

“I think health is completely in the rearview mirror,” Yates said. “We're back to being normal and being back to just trying to manage a big league season as opposed to coming off an injury. So I think actually going through last year too, and having the time off pitching, there were some mechanical deficiencies there that I worked pretty hard on all offseason.

“I think it's starting to kind of pay off a little bit where I'm back on top of the ball a little bit better. The one thing that I really came into camp focused on was fastball command and so far, it’s showed up.”

Yates pitched one inning with two strikeouts in his Cactus League debut against the Dodgers on Feb. 28 and followed by allowing one run in one inning against the White Sox on Saturday, recording three strikeouts to complete his inning in Texas’ 14-3 win over Chicago. He reiterated that his fastball command has been a focus for him this spring after walking a career-high 37 batters in 2023.

“We saw his first outing and he's a pro,” Bochy said. “He knows what he's doing out there. He knows what he wants to do to prepare for the season. He's been through it and he's a strike thrower. He's attacking all the time. That's who he is. I saw him a lot being in the National League West, he pitched very well against us all the time.”

The Rangers’ bullpen rightfully caught a lot of flak last season despite their hot stretch in October. Texas relievers finished 24th in MLB in bullpen ERA (4.77) in the regular season while going just 30-for-63 (47.6 percent) in save opportunities.

A healthy version of Yates would be a welcome addition to any bullpen, but for a Rangers group that struggled for much of last year, his presence means that much more.

“He's making our bullpen a lot better,” Bochy said. “When you get guys like him and [David] Robertson, we're in a better place in the bullpen because of those guys.”