Kelvin Herrera is in a new position. As a first-year closer, he’s having to wait out save opportunities — and the Royals aren’t giving him those with regularity.
The offensive dearth is forcing manager Ned Yost to put Herrera in ballgames that, for a newly minted closer, frankly don’t mean much. Herrera, who has just three saves this season, threw an inning in Monday’s 12-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He also pitched one inning and gave up a run in Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
“It’s just really tough getting him in games when you’re on the road and you’re behind,” Yost said. “At home it’s easier, so we can balance it out a little more effectively.”
Balancing anything has become an arduous task for the Royals. When it seemed Herrera finally would get his fifth save opportunity of the year, Joakim Soria blew Ian Kennedy’s first solid chance at a win this season Friday. Soria allowed four runs (one unearned) in the eighth inning of a 6-4 loss to the Twins, and Herrera, who’d started getting loose in the bullpen, had to take a seat.
The Rockies’ Greg Holland — a former Royals closer — leads the big leagues with 11 save opportunities. Herrera’s four ties him with seven other relievers for 24th in the majors. Among them are Washington’s Blake Treinen and Shawn Kelley, both of whom have struggled for the National League East-leading Nationals.
For a pitcher who last year appeared in 72 games and was on the mound with two or fewer days of rest for 68 of those contests, adjusting to longer periods of inaction between outings is something of a mental hurdle for Herrera.
But it’s a small sample size, not yet 14 percent through the season. No one is panicking, especially not Herrera.
“I’m ready every day, whether or not I actually get to pitch,” Herrera said. “I do what I can to be prepared when they need me. You have to be ready every single day because you just don’t know when you’re going to get a chance. It could be every fifth day or every day. … I wish I could pitch every day.”