Braves’ Kirby Yates feels he has to prove himself when he returns

031522 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitcher Kirby Yates loosens up his arm during Spring Training at CoolToday Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in North Port.    “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
031522 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitcher Kirby Yates loosens up his arm during Spring Training at CoolToday Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in North Port. “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Before his second Tommy John surgery, Kirby Yates was one of baseball’s best closers.

He’s not relying on his track record to carry him to a bullpen role with the Braves when he returns. No, he understands he must earn it.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Braves

“Look, I have to prove to (president of baseball operations) Alex (Anthopoulos) that I can come back and pitch at a high level before he makes any kind of decision on me,” Yates said before Saturday’s game versus the Brewers. “It’s not like, hey I’m healthy, I’m ready to go. And if I’m down at Triple-A or doing whatever I am on my assignment and Alex isn’t comfortable bringing me up, he’s not going to bring me up.

“I have to go back out there. I have to prove to myself that I’m still capable of getting big-league outs, and prove to (Alex) and people in this organization that I’m the guy that is able to help the team.”

Yates is throwing bullpen sessions. The right-hander threw 25 pitches Friday in his latest session – all fastballs – and has been throwing off a mound for around three weeks. He said he has one more week of throwing only fastballs before mixing in breaking balls.

Yates said he still is on track for a return around the beginning of August. He would provide a boost to the Braves’ bullpen if he looks anything like he did before undergoing surgery in March 2021.

He said he’s excited to return, but can’t think about that just yet. He follows the team, the guys and everything else, but knows he must remain focused on himself.

“It’s a real monotonous kind of schedule you’re on,” Yates said. “To be honest with you, it’s extremely boring. But this is the way it is, and that’s the necessary thing that you got to do.”

Over 282-1/3 career innings, Yates has a 3.54 ERA. His best seasons came with the Padres in 2018 and 2019, when he pitched to a 1.67 combined ERA over those years. He was an All-Star in 2019.

Throughout this long process, Yates has tried to keep perspective.

“This is my job, I chose to do this,” Yates said. “I wouldn’t say my days are terrible by any means. I still get to come to work in a big-league clubhouse every day – I don’t take that for granted. I still was able to get a job after being hurt. Yeah, it’s boring, but it’s part of it. At this point in my career, I kind of understand how everything works. I understood that 13 months ago, this was the journey I had in front of me.

“You can ride the emotional roller coaster, but it really doesn’t do you any good, to be honest with you. You just take this one day at a time. You win your days. You have your good days, you have your bad days. You have your good weeks, you have your bad weeks. But you try not to stack them on top of each other. You try and have a good day and keep backing them up on good days and stay away from consecutive (bad) days.”


Piña’s wrist is improving

As a rookie years ago, Manny Piña would become frustrated when he suffered an injury because he badly wanted to produce for his team. Injuries are still difficult, but he’s handled them better as he’s gained more experience in the game.

“Now, you’re more mature and you know this small thing, you can’t control it,” he said. “How do you control the injury? That’s when you just give it to God’s hands to feel much better when you come back.”

So of his left wrist inflammation, he said: “It’s hard, man. But it’s something that you can’t control. How do you control the injuries? It’s hard. You just go outside, play hard and sometimes those things happen.”

Piña, whom the Braves placed on the injured list retroactive to April 25, swung in the batting cage Friday. He said he swung at 70%. He doesn’t feel any pain when catching – only when swinging.

The catcher expected a doctor to evaluate him Saturday and determine his next steps.

Piña has been doing treatment and different exercises.

How do Braves move forward with Matzek?

The Braves will just keep sending Tyler Matzek out to the mound.

Matzek on Friday walked three of four batters he faced. Since getting two quick outs in New York on Monday, he has walked five of seven batters he’s faced, while hitting another.

“He’s not going through anything that baseball players don’t go through,” Snitker said. “He had a little hiccup last year. He came through it. It’s the only way I know to get through it. It’s like a hitter, you can give them the day off or whatever, but the only place where they will get themselves going is the playing field. With Tyler, we have to keep running him out there.”

Stephens perfectly filling his role

Since the Braves recalled him in the season’s first week, Jackson Stephens has performed his role beautifully.

He has allowed only two earned runs over nine innings. He has appeared five times, and has pitched as many as three innings and as few as one.

“You just can’t find a guy like that laying around,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “A guy that can sit and knows his role and doesn’t have to pitch everyday and comes in and throws strikes.

“He has good stuff. I’ve been very impressed. There’s more than I thought, quite honestly. He could serve a lot of different roles.”