Prior to the start of this season, San Diego Padres pitcher Kirby Yates’ goal was to simply play better than in the previous season.
He’s done that and then some.
Yates, a native of Omao, was named as a National League All-Star last weekend and will play in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s his first time receiving an all-star selection.
In a phone interview Saturday morning, Yates said the fact he’s an all-star still hasn’t fully hit him.
“It’s a little humbling. It’s pretty cool to call my family and tell them and listen to their reactions,” Yates said. “I’m proud. I don’t think I’ve had my moment yet. It’s pretty cool to do it in the clubhouse and have my teammates congratulate me. I’m sure I’ll have that moment sometime in the next three or four days where it sinks in. I have a feeling that’s probably when I show up, walk around the clubhouse and things like that. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
Yates said family and friends will be making the trip to Cleveland to watch him take the field with baseball’s best and brightest.
“I just called my dad. I just told him, ‘Hey, your son is a Major League All-Star,’” Yates said. “You know, I was a little choked up telling him, and he just laughed. Like, ‘I don’t know what to think of this. This is unbelievable.’ It was a pretty incredible moment.
“And Tyler (Tyler Yates, brother and former MLB pitcher), he’s pumped. He told me, ‘You earned this, and it’s something you’re never going to forget.’ I don’t think anybody is going to forget it. I got everybody coming up. Everybody’s getting on a flight today and coming up to LA, and then we’re going on our way to Cleveland.”
As of Saturday, the Padres closer leads the National League in saves with 28, according to ESPN. Following Yates in the saves category is Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers with 23 and Will Smith of the San Francisco Giants with 22.
Yates also posts a 1.22 ERA and 58 strikeouts so far this year.
“You just want to pitch as good as you can. You don’t want to suck,” he said. “That’s why you work hard in the offseason. It’s why you prepare yourself the way you do. I guess, this is best case scenario. You can’t picture getting close to 30 saves toward the break. If you tell me that before the season, that you’re going to have close to 30 saves before the All-Star Game, you’d take that in a heartbeat. I hope that’s what happens, but you never know. You got to go out and play the games. You got to find a way to be good every night.”
Yates made his Major League debut with the Tampa Bay Rays 2014. The start to his pro career was rough, however, as he bounced from team to team early on.
The Kauai native was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres in 2017, and he found himself playing better and better each season.
In 2018, he became the Padres closing pitcher after a mid-season trade and had his best season up to that point. The trend continued for Yates this year, which included his All-Star selection.
He said what’s mostly contributed to his success was that this year’s Padres team is better than it was in previous seasons. Prior to the start of Saturday’s game against the LA Dodgers, San Diego had a 43-45 regular season record.
“I don’t think the way I’m pitching is much different. I just think I’m getting way more opportunities to come in and save games,” he said. “We’re hovering around .500, whereas last year were probably 15 games below .500. We’re winning more baseball games. We have a better team this year, which helps.”
Also, Yates is the only all-star selection out of San Diego this year.
“It kind of sucks. I think there’s a couple of guys on our team that are deserving to go with me,” Yates said. “It would have been cool to have everybody come together and have a little crew, but it didn’t work out that way. That’s unfortunate. It is what it is. I’m still excited. I’m excited that I’m the guy that’s going to represent the city and the organization.”
When the second half of the season starts, Yates said he’s just going to try to stay with what’s been working for him. He hopes his team will be in playoff contention as the season winds down.
“You get locked into your routine. I got a routine that I trust, and I’ve had results with it. So, I just try to stay with that. I’m out there doing a job every night, and I’m going to do it the best I can,” he said. “We’re halfway there. This is what you work for because now you try to get your team into the playoff hunt. You want to be in the race come August and September and play meaningful games. That’s when the fun begins.”
The MLB All-Star Game is scheduled to start 1:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday and will be broadcasted on Fox. The Padres will kick of the second half of the season on Friday and will host the Atlanta Braves.
Yates lastly wanted to acknowledge his supporters from his home island.
“I’ve gotten a lot of text messages and messages on social media from everybody. I’d just like to say thank you for all the support,” he said. “I really appreciate it, and I can feel it. I know everybody is rooting for me and is proud of me. That’s pretty cool. Kauai has an all-star, and that’s pretty neat.”
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.