Struggling reliever Kelvin Herrera headed back to the minors Tuesday in another effort to rebuild his confidence as part of a series of moves by the Royals prior to their series opener against Atlanta at Kauffman Stadium.
“I think it’s just confidence,” manager Ned Yost said. “He gave up the homers (early in the season) and got a little shellshocked. He started fighting it. He started to overthrow and lost his mechanics.”
The Royals replaced Herrera, whom they optioned to Class AAA Omaha, by recalling lefty Will Smith from the same club. Smith recently converted to bullpen duty in anticipation of a possible move.
“Everybody who saw him (pitch as a reliever) was pretty impressed,” Yost said. “Coming out of the pen, the quality of his stuff was elevated. We’ll see.”
The Royals also recalled left-hander Danny Duffy from his minor-league rehab assignment and optioned him to Omaha. He responded Tuesday night by pitching five scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory at Oklahoma City.
To clear space for Duffy on their 40-man roster, the Royals designated lefty reliever Francisley Bueno for assignment.
Finally, outfielder Quintin Berry cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Omaha.
The moves came after Herrera, 23, saw his ERA jump to 5.20 ERA by yielding one run in two-thirds of an inning in Sunday’s 7-6 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
It is Herrera’s second demotion of the season. He was sent previously to Omaha from May 23 through June 3 after yielding eight home runs in a span of 15 innings. He returned after five scoreless appearances.
Herrera yielded no more homers in 10 outings following his return but still permitted five runs and six hits in 7⅓ innings.
“The reasons are obvious,” Yost said. “He’s just struggling right now. He’s struggling with his mechanics; struggling with his command. We need to get him straightened out.
“It’s everything. It’s controlling the running game, which also got away from him. He just needs to slow the game down again and be able to execute.
“He’s going to start (at Omaha), but we’re not making him a starter. We just want to get him back to using all of his pitches.”
Herrera emerged last season as a key bullpen contributor when, as a rookie, he compiled a 2.35 ERA in 76 games while striking out 77 in 84⅓ innings.
Smith, 23, returns to the big-league club for the third time this season but for the first time as a reliever. His two previous recalls were under the 26th-player rule for double-headers.
After making 10 starts at Omaha, Smith shifted earlier this month to the bullpen, where he permitted one run and six hits in 10 ⅔ innings over seven appearances.
Yost said Smith will not immediately inherit Herrera’s late-inning setup duty. Yost said Aaron Crow will now serve as the club’s primary eighth-inning reliever with Tim Collins drawing the duty on occasion.
“We’ll see what Will Smith can do,” Yost said. “But it will be mostly Collins and Crow to get us to Holly (closer Greg Holland).”
Duffy, 24, made six rehab starts while on the 60-day disabled list in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He permitted 18 runs in 20⅔ innings in those six games prior his victory at Oklahoma City.
Bueno, 32, was 1-2 with a 3.40 ERA in 23 relief appearances at Omaha. He compiled a 1.56 ERA last season in 18 big-league outings in addition to 35 games at Omaha.
The Royals acquired Berry, 29, in a June 4 waiver claim from Detroit, where he batted .258 last season in 94 games while stealing 21 bases in 21 attempts.
Berry was six for 31 in nine games at Omaha prior to being designated Sunday for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster after the Royals claimed pitcher Maikel Cleto from St. Louis.