Considered one of the best closers in the big leagues just two seasons ago, Kirby Yates is looking for a bounce back showing after an elbow injury limited his 2020 campaign to just six appearances.
Now that he’s joined the Toronto Blue Jays, his opportunity could very well come in the ninth-inning role.
The team already has a few potential closer candidates, but Yates – who had bone chips removed from his elbow last summer – said he thinks he could get a chance to claim the spot.
“I think I need to first prove I’m healthy and two, I think I need to prove that I’m still myself and that I’m capable of doing it,” Yates said Friday on a video call with reporters. “I think if I can go out there and do those two things, I think I have a good opportunity of being able to get that ninth inning.”
A closer-by-committee approach was used by the Blue Jays last season. Ken Giles had a strong 2019 but missed most of last year due to injury, leaving Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., as the main options.
Giles, now a free agent, is not expected to return to the big leagues until 2022 due to Tommy John surgery.
Bass, meanwhile, agreed to terms Friday with the Miami Marlins. He led the Blue Jays with seven saves over the shortened 60-game 2020 season, going 2-3 with a 3.51 ERA over 26 appearances.
Yates, who agreed to a one-year deal worth US$5.5-million, had his signing confirmed by the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
He led all major-leaguers with 41 saves in his 2019 all-star season with the San Diego Padres. Yates had a 1.19 earned-run average and 101 strikeouts over 60 2/3 innings that year against 13 walks.
Right elbow inflammation forced him out after just 4 1/3 frames last season. He said Friday that his arm feels good now and that his rehabilitation process ended a couple weeks ago.
Yates added he has thrown bullpen sessions about once a week and plans to pick things up ahead of spring training next month.
“I feel like I”m on that right track to go out there and compete like the way I can,” he said.
It has been a busy week for the Blue Jays, who also landed free-agent outfielder George Springer on a six-year deal worth a reported US$150-million.
“When you sign a guy like George Springer, it’s like, ‘Boom. okay, perfect. This is awesome.’” Yates said. “It’s just exciting to be a part of [a] team that’s trying to push really hard to go to the next level.”
The Blue Jays, who are coming off a 32-28 campaign, also signed right-hander Tyler Chatwood to a one-year contract this week. On Friday, Toronto dealt right-hander Hector Perez to Cincinnati in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.
Yates, who made his big-league debut in 2014 with the Tampa Bay Rays, has also played for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels.
The Canadian Press
with files from The Associated Press.