Royals bullpen remains a question with camp opening

Kansas City Royals pitcher Wily Peralta warms up during a baseball spring training workout, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Once a strength, Kansas City's bullpen is a question mark entering 2018

SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Kansas City Royals had the most feared bullpen in the majors in 2014 and '15 with Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera helping them advance to back-to-back World Series.

That's no longer the case entering 2018. The back end of the bullpen remains unsettled as Royals opened spring training on Tuesday with pitchers and catchers reporting.

Herrera is back and led the team with 26 saves last year, but he lost his closing job late in the season. Scott Alexander logged four saves. Mike Minor finished the year as the closer, collecting six saves.

The Royals traded relievers Alexander, Joakim Soria and Ryan Butcher in January. Minor signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent.

Along with a plethora of new faces in the bullpen, the Royals have a new pitching coach in Cal Eldred and bullpen coach in Vance Wilson.

Herrera, who had a career-worst 4.25 ERA in 64 appearances and battled forearm tightness last year, arrived in Arizona on January 13 to begin working out.

"I was a mess," Herrera said. "I was a complete mess the first half and the second half, pretty much all year."

Herrera and Brandon Maurer, who has 33 big league saves, are the leading candidates for closer as the Royals welcomed 32 pitchers and seven catchers to camp.

"They've both done that," Eldred said. "They both have the kind of stuff that can play at the back end of the bullpen."

Maurer, however, had little success with the Royals, who acquired him in a midseason trade with San Diego. He was 2-2 with two saves and an 8.10 ERA in 26 games with Kansas City.

Herrera, a two-time All-Star, will make $7.9 million in 2018. He could be traded as the Royals look to shed payroll.

"I knew the Royals are rebuilding," Herrera said. "I wasn't worried at all (about trade speculation). I tell you, I'll do my job wherever."

Maurer's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Arizona. He is seeking $3.5 million, while the Royals have countered with $2.95 million.

Other closer possibilities include Wily Peralta, who signed as a free agent with Kansas City and mostly started with Milwaukee, and Rule 5 pick Burch Smith, whose fastball touched 100 mile per hour in the Arizona Fall League.

"A lot of new faces here, which is part of the process," Herrera said. "They've got a lot of talent. I can tell you that. Right now I'm just focusing on getting my arm loose and getting my body ready to go. It's the right place to be right now."

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