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Kauai native Kirby Yates is thriving with the San Diego Padres

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    San Diego Padres relief pitcher Kirby Yates works against an Atlanta Braves batter during the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in San Diego.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    San Diego relief pitcher Kirby Yates, left, shown congratulating Padres right fielder Travis Jankowski during a game in June, is one of five active players with Hawaii ties in the major leagues. The Kauai graduate did not allow a run in 12 appearances last month while holding opponents to six hits and striking out 15 over 14 innings.

ARLINGTON, Texas >> It was the latest of many stellar performances to perfectly illustrate just how invaluable Kirby Yates has been for the San Diego bullpen in 2018.

On June 26 at Texas, the Lihue native entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Padres ahead 3-2. Yates proceeded to quickly strike out the side on 15 pitches, 12 strikes, to retire the Rangers in order with three swinging whiffs.

However, when asked postgame about Yates’ latest impressive showing, third-year San Diego manager Andy Green didn’t sound surprised.

“Yeah, Kirby’s been ridiculous really,” Green said. “The fastball-up combo and the split-down has been lethal on just about everybody. It’s not just the Texas Rangers, he’s been doing that all year long. Drops the slider in when he wants to too, so it’s not just a two-pitch mix. Can’t imagine a relief pitcher doing more than he’s doing right now.”

In 34 appearances, Yates, 31, is 3-0 with an 0.79 ERA, 41 strikeouts, nine walks and a WHIP of 0.824. Some might call his strong start a bit surprising, but the veteran right-hander who makes his offseason home in Koloa might have dropped a hint of things to come last season when he appeared in 61 games for the Padres, setting numerous career bests in a season in which he finished with 20 holds and stranded 15 of 16 inherited runners, barometers of any great reliever.

“I think last year, I came into the year changing everything I ever did. The way I prepared for the season was completely different, tried to add a third pitch,” said Yates, who debuted with Tampa Bay in 2014. “When I got here, they had a super open mind-set. They let me be myself. Along the way they encouraged me and were on the same page as far as the way I wanted to pitch.”

Another change in 2017 was that he became a father for the first time after he and his wife welcomed a daughter to the world. In late June, Yates said he was about to become a dad again and discussed how fatherhood has helped make him a more effective pitcher.

“It’s such a blessing. As weird as it is, I think it relaxed me a little bit more,” he said. “I stopped taking baseball so seriously. I always took it seriously, but I stopped taking it home with me. It didn’t matter. My focus now when I go home is my daughter, being a husband. She (my daughter) is adorable and she’s such a blessing. I’m pretty fortunate to have the family I have.”

During the Padres’ recent three-game series in Texas, Yates was one of two Hawaii players in the ballpark. Infielder/catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Honolulu native who caught the June 27 series finale for the Rangers, was the other. However, Yates only appeared in the middle game of the series, the Padres’ only win, which meant he never faced Kiner-Falefa, who started the following night.

“It’s a fraternity, it’s a brotherhood (for everyone from Hawaii). The only time you don’t want anyone to do well is when you’re facing them, but even then, it’s pretty fun,” he said. “Me and Kolten (Wong) always have a running joke, he always wants to face me. It’s tough facing guys (from Hawaii) just because when they get a hit off you, you’ve got to live with it. But it makes it fun. It’s cool, really enjoyable. I’ve made some friendships along the way, which are probably going to last a lifetime, so it’s really neat (to be part of that group).”

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