Kelvin Herrera came over from Kansas City with a 1.05 ERA, two walks (0.70 BB/9), 22 Ks (7.71 K/9), two home runs allowed, and a stingy .207/.223/.283 line against in 25 2⁄3 innings on the mound as the Royals’ closer.
“We wanted a guy that had been through the wars before, that’s been established, and was pitching extremely well,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after making the 3-for-1 deal which sent minor league infielder Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins, and right-hander Yohanse Morel to the Royals.
“Kelvin fit all those criteria, and we got a guy with great makeup,” Rizzo added.
“Johnny DiPuglia, our international guy, knows him extremely well through Rene Francisco of the Royals, and I’ve seen him pitch for many, many years.
“He was a guy that we really liked the person, one, and how he performed, two, and his makeup, three.”
With the Nationals, however, the 28-year-old right-hander has been decidedly up and down through 10 appearances, with a 4.66 ERA, 10 Ks (9.31 K/9), six walks (5.59 BB/9), and three home runs allowed in a total of 9 2⁄3 IP, over which he’s put up a .237/.356/.500 line against.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked after Herrera gave up a hit (the third home run) and two walks in Thursday’s series opener in New York, letting the Mets within one in what ended up a 5-4 win for the Nationals.
The home run was a solo shot to right by Asdrubal Cabrera, and the walks came in the two at bats that followed the blast, as the Mets threatened to tie things up or potentially take a lead, but Herrera popped Wilmer Flores up and struck Matt den Dekker out to escape the jam and preserve the one-run lead.
While Herrera was designated as the closer while Sean Doolittle’s on the DL, Martinez told reporters after they game that he’d informed the right-hander before the game that those batters he faced at the top of the Mets’ order were his whenever they came up in the late innings.
“I talked to Herrera before the game,” Martinez explained, “and I told him that slot of guys, whether it was the eighth or ninth, that’s who I wanted him to match up with and he was good with it, and then if it worked out that way, [Ryan] Madson had the ninth.”
Breaking down the issues Herrera had in that particular outing and generally since joining Washington, Martinez said, “He’s throwing the ball good, I think it’s more location issues.
“[He’s] having a tough time getting the ball where he wants it to go, his fastball, so I think that’s the reason he threw so much offspeed stuff. Something we probably need to talk about tomorrow, and kind of relax and get back in form. But his fastball is 96-97, so he’s throwing his fastball well, just location has been a little off.”
He stuck with the righty even after the walks, however, because he said he had faith in the veteran’s ability to get himself out of trouble.
“He’s a guy, I told those guys, no matter what, if it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth, they’re closing out that inning, and he understood,” Martinez explained.
“Like I said, I talked to him before the game and he got it, so he did a great job.
“He knew what he had to do, he got the big outs when we needed it and we gave the ball to Madson in the 9th.”
Herrera appreciated the show of faith.
“Absolutely,” he said through a translator on Saturday afternoon.
“He has confidence in me and he knows that I’ve been in that situation before and been able to battle and work through it so I appreciate that.”
Herrera was asked if his fastball command was an issue the previous night as his manager had suggested.
“I was having a little bit of a problem getting extension on the ball,” he said, “and I was able to fix it as it went along and finished the inning, kept it in a position to win the game.”
The move from closing games for the Royals to set-up duty in D.C., Herrera said, hasn’t been an issue for him, since he’s spent time in a variety of roles in his career.
“It doesn’t matter,” he explained. “I don’t have a specific inning in mind, all you have to do is get prepared properly and go out there and do your job.”
He hasn’t had any issues adjusting to a new organization after spending his entire career in Kansas City before the trade.
“No, it’s the same baseball,” he said. “It’s a different role but it’s the same baseball, and you’ve just got to maintain yourself and stay positive and do the same thing.”