Royals closer Kelvin Herrera sauntered out to the bullpen here at Petco Park on Friday afternoon, one day after allowing four runs in the ninth inning in a 6-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
In a mostly quietly stadium, Herrera had a simple mission: Address a mechanical flaw detected by Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland following Thursday’s meltdown. Eiland had noticed that Herrera was standing too open when coming set out of the stretch, causing him to miss pitches to the arm side. The problem resulted in a four-pitch walk to Josh Reddick and a missed fastball to Jose Altuve, who clubbed a two-run homer to center field. Herrera needed to correct his alignment to home plate, Eiland said.
“He was starting open, so he stayed open and when you do that your ball will tail,” Eiland said. “He was trying to go down and away to Altuve and it was right down the middle.”
The Royals remain confident in Herrera despite a 5.55 ERA in 24 1/3 innings since taking over for Wade Davis, who was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason. In his first season as the club’s full-time closer, Herrera has also allowed seven homers. For context: From 2014 to 2016, Herrera did not surrender more than six homers in a season. In 2013, he gave up nine, the most of his career. This year, he’s allowing 2.59 homers per nine innings, more than triple his career rate.
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The Royals, however, believe the rash of long balls suggests a lack of execution on a handful of mistake pitches. On the whole, Herrera’s stuff remains above average. He’s struck out 27 hitters while issuing just five walks. Entering Friday, he had logged a 3.00 ERA in save situations, recording 13 saves in 15 opportunities, while posting a 9.64 ERA in non-save outings. In addition, he’s been solid in high-leverage moments, limiting hitters to a .159 batting average and .213 on-base percentage in those situation. The rub: He has also yielded three homers in those key moments.
“He’s been pitching in big situations his whole career,” Eiland said. “But this isn’t rare for a closer to have struggles here and there. He’s 13 for 15 in save opportunities. I’ll take that any day. Those are pretty good odds.”