Brad Boxberger’s track record, particularly in comparison to the Royals’ other bullpen options, lends itself to the assumption he’ll eventually settle into the closer role. But manager Ned Yost did his best to dismiss that assumption on the first day of spring training workouts for pitchers and catchers.
Boxberger’s resume includes a 32-save as well as a 41-save season, while the Royals bullpen ranked last in the American League in 2018. Still, asking Yost about bullpen roles this early in spring training falls into roughly the same category as if you’d asked former football coach Jim Mora about his team’s playoff chances after a dreadful performance.
While he didn’t provide a memorable soundbite with the longevity of Mora’s famous Playoffs?!?! rant, Yost immediately rejected the idea of defining roles in February. That, Yost said Wednesday, will come through competition and time.
“We’ll let the roles define themselves,” he said in summation.
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Boxberger, who signed a one-year deal with the Royals last Thursday, echoed the same sentiment in his first interaction with reporters since joining the organization. Boxberger said he did not know nor did he have any guarantees about his eventual role.
“Ideally I’d love to close,” Boxberger said. “I mean, I love the opportunity, but any role that I’m in I’m going to try and succeed at.”
Boxberger, a right-hander, saved a team-high 32 games and finished 45 games in 60 appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. Though he had a rough final month of the season, posting an 11.37 ERA in September. He walked eight batters and opponents batted .357 against him in his final nine appearances (6 1/3 innings).
“I think I was just getting a little tired,” Boxberger said. “It was my first full season after being hurt for a couple of years. Just being able to get that full season under my belt last year is definitely going to (propel) me into this year.”
Injuries limited Boxberger to 57 total appearances combined during the 2016-17 seasons. He spent a stint on the 60-day disabled list in 2017 for Tampa Bay because of a right flexor strain.
Boxberger, a 2015 All-Star with Tampa Bay, has a 3.42 career ERA, a 20-27 record in 291 appearances and 76 career saves.
The Royals finished last season with former starting pitcher Wily Peralta, a 17-game winner who made 32 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, as their closer. He converted all 14 of his save chances last season.
“He was more aggressive, I think, tried to get ahead in the count,” catcher Salvador Perez said of Peralta. “And, of course, he likes to pitch down. He’s got pretty good stuff. He’s got a pretty good sinker, slider, split finger, so he can get ahead in the count quick.”
Peralta certainly figures into the bullpen equation as will right-hander Kevin McCarthy. The Royals also signed lefty reliever Jake Diekman to a one-year contract Wednesday night. Diekman, 32, has a 3.75 ERA in 365 career appearances with the Phillies, Rangers and Diamondbacks.
Yost also acknowledged that the team had been “mulling” the possibility of moving starting pitcher Ian Kennedy into a bullpen role this season. That notion of making Kennedy, who has started in 289 of his 291 career appearances in the majors, remained in the discussion stage going into spring training.
While Yost refuses to get wrapped up in which pitchers will ultimately garner titles such as closer or set-up man, Yost certainly will be focused on finding out which pitchers he can count on in crucial situations.
“You’ve got to have a couple guys that you feel comfortable coming in high-leverage situations,” Yost said. “It may be the seventh, it may be the ninth. It just depends, but you’ve got to have a couple guys that you feel comfortable can get you out of those situations.”