Closer competition to assume camp spotlight

Herrera looking to regain ninth-inning duties after demotion in 2017

February 13th, 2018

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mike Minor is gone. So is . And .

As the Royals' pitchers and catchers reported Tuesday for Spring Training, an intriguing camp battle looms in the back of the bullpen.

Who will be the team's closer in 2018? And how will the back of the bullpen shape up?

Minor took over the job from right-hander last September and sparkled, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities. But Minor signed with Texas as a free agent over the offseason.

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Alexander, who had a 2.48 ERA in 58 games and also had four saves, was traded to the Dodgers. Soria, who was traded to the White Sox, had a 3.70 ERA in 59 games with one save.

That leaves Herrera as the top candidate again to close.

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The problem is, Herrera blew five saves last season before being demoted. And what Kansas City then learned was that the right-hander was far more effective in a familiar setup role -- in which he once shined as the bridge to Greg Holland and .

After his demotion last September, Herrera allowed two baserunners over five scoreless appearances, while striking out four.

Royals coaches said at the time it was the best Herrera had looked all season.

But fast forward to now, and Herrera may have to return to the closer's role simply out of necessity.

The only other candidate on the roster with experience in the closer's role is right-hander , acquired from San Diego in a deal prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Maurer had two saves with the Royals and 20 with the Padres, but he also had an 8.10 ERA in two months with Kansas City.

"You look at two guys initially with Kelvin and Brandon," new pitching coach Cal Eldred said Tuesday. "They've both done it before and both have the stuff to be back-of-the-bullpen guys.

"We also have guys who see themselves now in starting positions. Everyone wants to be a starter. ... But it's our job to put guys in the best possible position to succeed."

In other words, Eldred and the Royals may have to get creative and convert some would-be starters to the bullpen -- the Royals have a history of such successful conversions, most notably Davis and .

, a high-heat right-hander signed as a free agent formerly of the Brewers, could be a candidate to convert to the bullpen.

"We may or may not have to do something like that," Eldred said. "We have a long list of guys who are capable [of being late-inning guys]."

That list could include Rule 5 Draft acquisition , a right-hander who can throw in the upper 90s.

"We'll have to see how it plays out," Eldred said. "We've got a lot to watch this spring."