Royals shouldn't mess with success -- keep Will Smith in 'pen in 2014
SEP 10, 2013 11:16a ET
Reliever Kelvin Herrera started his minor league career in the rotation. He struggled mightily. The Royals switched him to the 'pen and he added almost 10 mph to his fastball, which reaches 100 at times, and now he is a fixture in the Royals' bullpen.
Luke Hochevar, by any measure an ineffective starter his whole career, has resurrected that career as a reliever.
Wade Davis, a starter all season, suddenly has become a solid contributor in the 'pen, much like he was for Tampa Bay last season.
Add left-hander Will Smith to the caravan of converted starters to the bullpen.
Smith had his moments as a starter last season but struggled with consistency and finished 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA.
This season, the Royals converted Smith to the 'pen in June and, oh my. The light switch went on.
"He's just been phenomenal out there," manager Ned Yost said. "A big boost for us."
Smith is 2-0 with a dazzling 1.78 ERA out of the 'pen. He has struck out 33 hitters in 25 1/3 innings.
Some of his outings have been virtually breathtaking. In late June, he threw five shutout innings against Minnesota, striking out six and not walking a hitter.
A little over a month later, he threw three perfect innings against the Twins, striking out five.
Last week against the Mariners, Smith perhaps topped all of his performances, throwing 4 1/3 shutout innings while fanning eight. The only blemish was a ball that center fielder Jarrod Dyson lost in the sun that was ruled a hit.
"It's been going well," Smith said in an understatement. "I'm just happy to be up here and contributing."
The question now, of course, is what to do with Smith: Do the Royals mess with success and try to turn him back into a starter? Or do the Royals add him to a growing list of shutdown relievers?
Yost and general manager Dayton Moore say that's a decision for next spring. Fair enough.
But the feeling here is that Smith is too valuable in his present role to tinker with. Yes, the Royals do have a left-hander in the 'pen in Tim Collins. But good bullpens have more than one situational lefty, and Smith clearly has become that.
Left-handed hitters are hitting just .140 off Smith, who has made them look foolish at times. Smith's slider has baffled power lefties such as Prince Fielder and Justin Morneau, and that is a weapon the Royals can really use going forward.
Smith is saying all the right things for now.
"It's whatever they want me to do, I'll do," he said. "As long as I'm in the big leagues."
But Smith admits he still possesses a starter's mentality, and if the Royals ask him to compete for the rotation next spring -- and there will be openings, it would appear -- he says he would jump at the chance.
"I think I could transition back into it pretty easily," Smith said. "But hey, it's their call. I just want to be here."
Of course, a lot can transpire this off-season that will change the landscape of the Royals' pitching staff.
Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen will be free agents. Hochevar would love another shot at the rotation, but he's also in the final year of arbitration and his high price tag ($4.56 million and going up) could make him expendable.
Davis could be thrown back into the rotation mix, as well as Luis Mendoza.
Point being, there could be some serious shuffling of the deck among Royals pitchers.
But Smith now appears to be a proven commodity right where he is, in the bullpen.
It makes sense to keep him right there.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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