The Braves announced that reliever Kirby Yates has been placed on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to September 13, due to inflammation in his throwing elbow. Righty William Woods was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to take his spot in the bullpen. Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets that Yates experienced some discomfort while throwing this afternoon.
An elbow inflammation diagnosis for Yates is a bit alarming, as it comes on the heels of a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander missed most of the abbreviated 2020 campaign battling elbow issues, and his efforts to avoid going under the knife proved unsuccessful. He required Tommy John surgery in March 2021 and spent a season and a half on the injured list before being reinstated in mid-August.
Despite the lengthy rehab process, the Braves rolled the dice on a two-year guarantee for Yates last offseason. He’s making just $1MM this year and will earn $6MM next season before the club has to decide on a 2024 team option valued at $5.25MM. President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos and his staff were clearly hoping Yates would recapture something resembling his 2019 form. During his last full healthy season, the Hawaii native was arguably the best reliever in the game. He saved an MLB-leading 41 games, posted a 1.19 ERA and struck out 41.6% of opponents over 60 2/3 innings with the Padres that season.
While there’s still time for Yates to turn things around, he’s shown signs of rust through his first month in Atlanta. The 35-year-old has logged seven innings over nine outings, allowing four runs on a pair of homers with five walks and six strikeouts. Yates’ 93.4 MPH average fastball velocity is right in line with his pre-surgery work, but the pitch has been hit hard so far this season. On the plus side, his trademark split has again been an excellent offering.
The Braves haven’t provided any kind of timetable for Yates’ expected return. There are a bit less than three weeks remaining in the regular season. A minimal stint would give Yates an opportunity to make it back for an outing or two before the playoffs, but any absence stretching notably beyond 15 days would take him into the postseason. Paired with his early struggles, Yates’ elbow discomfort could make it difficult for the team to carry him on a playoff roster. That’s particularly true in light of the team’s overall strength at the back end. The Braves have the majors’ fifth-lowest bullpen ERA (3.17) and second-best strikeout rate (27.4%).