One of the major problems when relievers are struggling is being able to locate pitchers to plug into those spots that can be successful. When virtually the entire bullpen is struggling, however, then it can be challenging to find relievers to be able to change the complexion of the relief corps.
Yet, there may be reinforcements for the Rays in Durham. They have already brought up Josh Lueke, and although he was an injury replacement, there is a chance that he remains with Tampa as they sort out the bullpen. Another option down in Durham may be Kirby Yates. Yates took over as the Bulls closer when Lueke was called up to Tampa, and has done quite well in his first taste of AAA action. In his 18 appearances, he has put together a 2-1 record with an impressive 1.44 ERA with an impressive 42 strikeouts in only 25 innings. He has a strikeout to walk ratio of 6 to 1, and has allowed only 13 hits. Those are numbers that one typically would see in a video game, not in the midst of an actual professional season.
Yates always seemed to have the ability to strike out opposing batters and limit hits, yet he struggled with his control. Prior to this season, he walked approximately 4.5 batters per nine innings. However, he had adjusted his delivery with the tutelage of Neil Allen, Durham’s pitching coach, to keep from falling off to the side while delivering the baseball. This adjustment seems to have helped, as his control has dramatically improved.
Even though his fastball only reaches the lower to mid 90’s, that may not matter. After all, the Rays already have a reliever in their bullpen who can strike out roughly a batter per inning with a low 90’s fastball in Joel Peralta. While Peralta generates his strikeouts on what is considered to be a ‘rising’ fastball, Yates generates his strikeouts through a different delivery, firing the ball from a point that seems to be behind his ear, making the pitch difficult to pick up for the opposing batter.
Is Yates a pitcher the caliber of Peralta? It seems highly unlikely, but the Rays also would not need him to perform at that level. They would just need Yates to be better than what they have had in the bullpen this season. Given the continued struggles of pitchers like Kyle Farnsworth and Cesar Ramos, almost anything would be better.
Kirby Yates’ performance this season has been opening eyes in Durham. Should he continue to perform at this level, he may get the chance to attempt to help turn around the Rays bullpen this season.