Posted on September 9, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
With time running out in the season and their postseason hopes slipping away, the Kansas City Royals are shaking up their bullpen. Royals manager Ned Yost announced Friday that closer Kelvin Herrera has been removed from the closer’s role, at least for now. Yost says that some combination of Brandon Maurer, Scott Alexander, and Mike Minor will be options to close out games in the immediate future.
“We’re going to bump Kelvin out there for a little while,” explains Yost. “He’s not pitching regularly enough to stay sharp. I feel like right now we can go with Scotty, we can go with Minor, we can go with Mauer. It just depends what it takes to get there.”
Herrera has been hindered recently by forearm tightness that popped up in August. The issue has forced Yost to use him more sporadically over the past few weeks, resulting in struggles on the mound.
“Kel’s pitching like every five days. It’s just not enough to keep him sharp,” said Yost. “We need to get him back into the seventh or eighth inning and get him pitching more regularly to sharpen him up.”
Herrera gave up three runs and blew a save opportunity in Thursday’s game against the Twins, an important matchup in the wild-card race. That was enough for Yost to pull him out of the closer’s role and look for options elsewhere. It was the third time in his last five outings that Herrera failed to pitch a full inning before being removed.
Even before his recent issues with forearm tightness, Herrera had not been pitching at the same level as Kansas City’s previous closers, most notably Wade Davis and Greg Holland. In fact, Herrera is in the midst of his worst major league season. He’s posted an ERA of 4.24 and a WHIP of 1.41, both career highs. His strikeout rate is also not as high as it’s been in recent years.
However, Herrera may still be Kansas City’s best candidate in the closer’s role once he pitches more regularly and is able to regain some of his sharpness. Yost was less than enthusiastic Friday when speaking about the three relievers he thinks could be used to close out games.
“They’ve all been fine,” Yost said. “Maurer, Scotty and Minor, I think, are all capable of closing out the ninth inning.”
Mauer was having a rough season with the Padres, and things haven’t gotten any better after being traded to the Royals in July. In 20 appearances since the trade, Mauer has a 7.02 ERA. However, he was serving as San Diego’s closer earlier this season, so he has experience in that role. Alexander has been one of Kansas City’s top relievers this year. He’s posted a 2.12 ERA and saved three games. Minor has also been impressive in his first season as a reliever, pitching to a 2.82 ERA.
Thursday’s loss dropped the Royals 3.5 games behind the Twins for the second wild-card spot. Kansas City also has to leap frog the Orioles, Rangers, and Angels to get to that wild-card spot. There’s still time for the Royals to close that gap and return to the postseason. But if they can’t get their bullpen in order, that’s going to be a difficult task. Removing Herrera from the closer’s role appears to be a short-term solution, but with time running out in the season, that’s exactly what the Royals need.