Ponte Las Pilas, Kelvin: Kelvin Herrera Faces a Key World Series Role

Kelvin Herrera has always been a high-profile player for the Kansas City Royals, although sometimes for the wrong reasons. The 25-year-old Dominican is old school. He’s the surly face out of the Royals’ bullpen, kind of in the mold of a Richard “Goose” Gossage. Radar guns have clocked Herrera’s fastball at 102 mph, and sometimes it fires off like a rocket toward the head of an opposing batter, or maybe behind his back.

Unlike Gossage, the often-chippy Herrera has never been a closer out of the pen. He’s basically been the seventh inning guy as part of Kansas City’s so-called Three-Headed Monster. The main task at hand was to make hitters uncomfortable, perhaps by giving them a close shave with a round, stitched object. Then it was up to Wade Davis and Greg Holland to come in and finish the job. That all changed, however, when Holland was shut down late in the season with a tender elbow, making Herrera’s responsibilities more detailed. In addition to keeping opponents at bay, he must now assume a setup role and even occasionally close a game.

When the Royals were scuffling down the stretch, so did Herrera, and fans observed with concern. Things got downright ugly on September 11, of all days, when Kelvin blew a four-out save by coughing up a grand slam bomb to the Baltimore Orioles.

“I was feeling good and strong but just missing my (location),” he remarked after that failure. “So I paid the price.”

Herrera has usually been effective lately, though, thanks to the perfection of a hard slider that tends to give hitters happy feet. The sharp breaking ball, which closely resembles a pitch thrown by José Fernández of the Miami Marlins, has given Kelvin a repertoire that is almost unfair. Now, the question that remains is whether the 5′ 10″, 200-pound right handed ace can keep his emotions in check under increased pressure. Early on this season when the Royals didn’t get much respect from the media or their peers on the field, Herrera and his teammate Yordano Ventura took it personally. Both pitchers were accused of being head-hunters, and bench-clearing skirmishes against the Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox caused the pair to be disciplined by the MLB. Such incidents would lead one to believe that Herrera has anger management issues. Not so, say the folks who know him best.

“That kid just has a lot of heart,” explains René Francisco, a Royals executive who gave the go ahead to sign Herrera as a scrawny, 140-pound teenager. “He’s a fighter and had to prove it.”

That makes sense, since growing up, Herrera idolized Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martínez, who was also a bit skinny and forceful in his youth. Signing for a bonus of only $15,000, Kelvin has ultimately rewarded Kansas City with strong performances for the past three seasons. He has also shown his loyalty as a homegrown Royal by inking a team-friendly $4.2 million deal through 2016. That said, the postseason is when a young player is asked to show signs of maturity and work a bit harder for his money.

October has been a mixed bag for Herrera. Last year against the San Francisco Giants, Kelvin was decent if not great, giving up five hits and two runs over 6.2 innings. This playoff season, he was shaky against the Houston Astros, only to rebound with five scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts in the ALCS. Unfortunately, that was blemished by a crucial double off the bat of Toronto’s Troy Tulowitzki. So, which Kelvin Herrera will show up in the Fall Classic this time around?

“I have confidence that my slider is working good with my fast ball,” he reveals.

Pedro Martínez couldn’t have said it better.