Swarzak 'happy' trying to help KC's bullpen

June 20th, 2021

When Royals reliever was released by the D-backs in late April, he went back home to spend time with his family. But he wasn’t upset that the ninth team he played for in his Major League career cut him loose after just 4 2/3 innings and five earned runs allowed.

Swarzak has learned to keep a level head through frustrating situations. A career that started out as a top pitching prospect for the Twins has gone through various highs and lows. Being designated for assignment by the D-backs was one of those lows. Then, the Royals called.

The 35-year-old packed his bags to join Triple-A Omaha on a Minor League contract. Swarzak picked up the ball better than he had in a couple seasons. He worked through 9 1/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and struck out 14 hitters without allowing a walk. The Royals called once more, this time to join them in Kansas City.

Swarzak made his Royals debut in the team's 7-1 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday. The perfect inning out of the bullpen had the right-hander pounding his fist into his glove as walked off the mound and manager Mike Matheny impressed with his new reliever.

“We had a good feel for some of the things he'd do well. He came in right away spinning the ball well,” Matheny said. “I thought he used his fastball very, very well. I thought it jumped out pretty good, too. He's just another experienced arm that we can rely on.”

The Royals were familiar with Swarzak. They saw him frequently as he spent the first eight seasons of his career with American League Central rivals Minnesota, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox. Swarzak’s friendship with former Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer was an added bonus to his familiarity with the organization.

“It seemed like a comfortable fit, and it has been so far,” Swarzak said. “My agent and the front office have been in contact for a long time and it just didn't seem to work out for a few years, and now I ended up being in a situation where I could land here and hopefully help the team win.”

The 35-year-old said his plan is to pitch until he’s 40. To do that, he had to pitch in Korea and Venezuela to reinvent his approach on the mound. Swarzak studied how to attack hitters outside the zone with offspeed pitches by looking to former Royals starter James Shields and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

“I've always been able to throw strikes, [but] there's such a thing as too many strikes at the big league level when you don't throw 100 miles an hour,” Swarzak said. “I got a chance to go out in Omaha and started ripping on these cutters, and it started working. I feel it's making my slider better. I'm moving it to both sides of the plate and it’s making my fastball play better.”

The work he's put in to reinvent himself was noticed through the effectiveness in his arsenal against the Red Sox. Hunter Renfroe, Christian Vasquez and Enrique Hernández had no solution for the eight sliders and 93.7-mph fastball that Swarzak fired in the sixth.

“I've always been a guy that's had to fight for every day, I was kind of a big prospect and then I wasn't,” Swarzak said. “Now, I'm kind of just a guy trying to help teams and that's OK. I'm happy with that.”