Kelvin Herrera emerges as seventh-inning force for Royals

Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera has proved to be a shut-down option in the sixth inning recently.
Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera has proved to be a shut-down option in the sixth inning recently. The Kansas City Star

Earlier in the summer, Royals manager Ned Yost operated under a simple but devastating plan. All he had to do, each day, was figure out a way to hand the baseball to Wade Davis in the eighth inning with a lead. From there, Davis and Greg Holland, his ninth-inning counterpart, would handle matters.

In recent weeks, as the team’s pitching staff continues to hold strong, Yost has altered his preparation to include Kelvin Herrera, who has emerged as a tremendous force in the seventh inning. Now all Yost requires is his starting pitcher to provide six quality innings.

“That’s game plan going in most every day,” Yost said.

Yost let his trio loose on the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night. Herrera, 2-2 with a 1.69 ERA, hit 101-mph on the gun. Davis induced two pop-ups and a strikeout. Holland yielded a run, but still locked down the save.

Each pitcher is a right-hander capable of suffocating fastball velocity. There is little let-up.

“You get a one-run lead in the sixth inning, you’ve got to face 100 mph, 99 mph and then 97 mph,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “With absolutely dirty sliders, all of them. It’s a tough, uphill battle for anybody trying to come back off of those three guys.”

Herrera actually throws a curveball, but Moustakas’ point still holds up. Herrera has rebounded from a trying 2013 campaign to establish himself as a force. After yielding nine homers last season, he has yet to allow one in 2014.

He has not given up a run since June 24. He missed time in early July because of shoulder soreness, but is holding opposing hitters to a .558 on-base plus slugging percentage in his subsequent 11 appearances.

His strikeout numbers are down, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a career-worst 1.90. But the Royals are happy with Herrera’s ability to command the baseball despite issuing 3.9 walks per nine.

“Last year, he was wild in the zone,” Yost said. “A lot of fastballs right down the middle. Now he’s keeping the ball down better. He’s working the corners better.”

Royals age overnight

A statistic courtesy of STATS LLC caught Yost by surprise. The Royals are actually the second-oldest team in the majors, surpassed in age only by the Yankees. The average Royal is aged 30 years and 231 days.

The team’s recent acquisitions skewed the numbers a tad. Since July the team has picked up outfielder Raul Ibañez (42), reliever Scott Downs (38) and Jason Frasor (36).

“Our core is young,” Yost said. “But our team is obviously not anymore.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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