Notes: Yates thrives in setup role
Right-hander stabilizing eighth inning for Atlanta
ATLANTA -- For most of the season, the only video accompanying a member of the Atlanta Braves bullpen probably would have been introduced by Bob Saget. After all, heading into August, the group converted only 22 of 32 save opportunities.
That has turned around since Bob Wickman came on board, as the bullpen has successfully closed 11 of 16.
Now, not only is there a video introducing Wickman, but also his setup man, Tyler Yates. More important, the bullpen is no longer a laughing matter for opponents.
"I was proud of the last six outs, strikeouts by Tyler and Wickman," said manager Bobby Cox, prior to the start of Monday's series finale with the Cubs, referring back to Sunday afternoon. "[Yates] can be lights-out. He's perfect as a setup man right now."
Over his last seven appearances, Yates has been just that, putting up nothing but zeroes, with seven strikeouts. Meet the Braves' newest "Mr. Eighth Inning."
"That's the way it's looks right now, with Danys Baez being out," said Yates, who entered the game with a 3.92 ERA overall, but is 1-0 with three holds and a hasn't allowed an earned run in six September appearances. "I'm just trying to put up some good innings and some uneventful innings and go and get outs and get the ball to Wick."
Catcher Brian McCann believes there's a simple explanation for what's turned things around for Yates, who endured a miserable August that saw him allow 10 earned runs in 10 innings of work.
"If you locate your pitches, you're going to have success," said McCann. "He throws 95, 96, 97 mph, and he's putting every pitch where he wants it."
"He's got great mental makeup," McCann continued. "One night he gets a loss, he puts it behind him and gets after it the next day."
Of course, the bullpen, which stuck together during the bad stretches, is certainly enjoying its time during this good period.
"We got a lot of the brunt," said Yates, a 29-year-old native of Lihue, Hawaii, who was signed to a Minor League deal by the Braves after being released in training camp by Baltmore. "Of course, we've had our struggles, but in order to make a playoff push here, the bullpen has to be solid, and we need to hold down the opposition. Hopefully, now we are proving that we are the bullpen that we can be."
Scratched : The Braves had two last-minute lineup changes on Monday, as first baseman Adam LaRoche was pulled from the lineup with a hamstring strain, and third baseman Willy Aybar sat out with an upset stomach. Daryle Ward replaced LaRoche, batting eighth, and Martin Prado took Aybar's position, and hit leadoff.
LaRoche had been among Atlanta's hottest hitters, batting .545 (6-for-11) in the series with two doubles, a triple, two homers and five runs scored, including the game-winning run on Saturday and Sunday. Aybar had been struggling, with only one hit in 10 trips to the plate in the series.
Gettin' close: Baez took the next step in his return to action, throwing a bullpen session Monday afternoon. The session consisted of 30 pitches -- a set of 15, a rest, then another set of 15 -- all fastballs.
"There was a little bit of pain, but that's part of the process," he said.
Depending on how he recovers on Tuesday, Baez expects to throw another bullpen session and then be ready to go over the weekend against Florida.
The First Step: Former closer Chris Reitsma will throw a baseball on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing nerve transpostion surgery in his elbow in July.
"It's just on the field here," he said. "Dr. Andrews, the guy who did the surgery, cleared me to begin really light tossing and to be able to start doing that tomorrow. It's only 45 feet. Really light, but it's a step in the right direction."
Reitsma, who had a nightmare season, going 1-2 with an 9.11 ERA and four blown saves, shut it down for the season after a horrific two-thirds of an inning performance June 11 in Houston, when he allowed seven hits and five earned runs.
He said he will be ready for next season.
"It's just a matter of feeling comfortable," said Reitsma, who will be a free agent at season's end. "I'll get to know my elbow again. I'll have a new elbow, and I'm looking forward to it, kind of nurse it back to health and be ready for Spring Training."
On deck: The Braves begin a key three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. Kyle Davies (2-5, 7.56 ERA) goes for Atlanta, while lefty Randy Wolf (3-0, 4.97 ERA) goes for Philladelphia. First pitch is at 7:35 ET.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.