It has been an odd season for the Royals’ bullpen.
Once a pinnacle of success for a team that made a run at the 2014 World Series and returned to win in 2015, the lights-out Royals bullpen of seasons’ past hasn’t seen that same success carry over through the summer months of the 2016 season.
Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman was just another reminder. Oft-reliable reliever Kelvin Herrera conceded a three-run home run to third baseman Todd Frazier in the 10thh inning and wound up with the loss.
But one guy that has started to emerge as a ray of light amid the inconsistency of the relievers has been from an unlikely source: rookie left-hander Matt Strahm.
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Since his call-up from Class AA Northwest Arkansas on July 31 — a corresponding move after the Royals placed closer Wade Davis on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm strain —Strahm, 24, has made the most of his four innings of work. He has 10 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA.
He turned in another stellar performance Tuesday, going two innings and notching five strikeouts in relief.
“He’s done a nice job,” Royals manager Ned Yost said after the Royals’ 7-5 loss to the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. “He’s got some really nice stuff. He’s got tremendous composure for a young guy. He just comes up — on the attack, banging strikes and throwing great stuff.”
Strahm, who attended Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan., said he has friends at Kauffman Stadium every night, and they are enjoying his hot start just as much as he is.
“I’m just putting a lot of trust in (catcher Salvador Perez) right now,” Strahm said. “He’s just throwing down the fingers and he knows me pretty well and I’m just trusting him.”
Strahm entered in a high-leverage situation Tuesday night, with the Royals down 4-2 in the sixth inning, but Yost said the team is being careful with using Strahm too much so early in his career.
“He’s still a guy that we are protecting a little bit,” Yost said. “We got to make sure that we don’t overuse him, but on days available he’s a nice weapon to have down there.”
Strahm is listed as the No. 4 Royals prospect on MLB.com and posted a 3.43 ERA with 107 strikeouts over 102 1/3 innings in the minor leagues. He started the season as a starter but was moved to the bullpen to possibly aid the major-league team.
In addition to catchers Perez and Drew Butera boosting his performance, Strahm also credits the other pitchers in the bullpen. And with the track record that the Royals’ bullpen has, those aren’t bad people to pump for information.
“Great group of guys,” Strahm said. “I’ve just picked the brains of all of them. I haven’t been here so I’m just learning in any situation I can.”