White Sox reliever Kelvin Herrera approaching full strength
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Perhaps the most important question for White Sox reliever Kelvin Herrera is, ‘‘How do you feel?’’
After signing a two-year, $18 million contract with a $10 million team option for 2021 during the offseason, Herrera is pitching in spring training for the first time since August, when a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot required surgery and ended his season. As injuries go, it was a painful one, and the foot is the one Herrera lands on in his delivery.
‘‘I feel like I’m in a good place right now,’’ said Herrera, the third-highest-paid player on the Sox in 2019 behind slugger Jose Abreu ($16 million) and right-hander Ivan Nova ($9.1 million). ‘‘I’ve been working hard here to get my body in the right shape, and my body is responding well. I feel pretty good. My foot is letting me work.’’
Herrera, whose 2.82 career ERA since 2011 ranks in the top 10 among active relievers with 400 or more innings pitched, hasn’t cranked his velocity up to midseason norms just yet, but he’s throwing strikes with low-90s velocity and getting outs. In six relief appearances covering 5 2/3 innings, he has allowed two hits (one a home run), struck out five and walked one.
A two-time All-Star, the Sox signed Herrera to give manager Rick Renteria needed, proven punch out of the bullpen.
Herrera, 29, was the last survivor of the Royals’ vaunted bullpen that helped them win the World Series in 2015. (Wade Davis and Greg Holland left before him.) When Herrera was traded to the Nationals last June, Royals manager Ned Yost got teary-eyed when he disclosed the news to his team. That’s how much Herrera was liked in the clubhouse.
‘‘That should explain how much he meant to us,’’ Royals outfielder Alex Gordon told MLB.com at the time. ‘‘Ned told us the news, and we rushed in here as soon as we could and said our goodbyes. Luckily got to tell him how much he meant to all of us and just what a great teammate he was and player and person for this city.’’
Herrera said he already is ‘‘fitting in well’’ in the Sox’ clubhouse, where he has been a welcome addition. He and projected closer Alex Colome give Renteria a reliable late-inning tandem.
Colome, 30, had a combined 3.04 ERA with 12 saves and 72 strikeouts in 68 innings last season between the Rays and Mariners. He had 37 saves in 2016 and a major-league-high 47 saves in 2017 for the Rays.
Herrera posted a combined 2.44 ERA with 17 saves in 19 chances for the Royals and Nationals last season but was limited to 10 games after the All-Star break because of the fracture in his left foot. There was doubt about whether Herrera would be ready to roll by Opening Day on March 28, but he appears to be on track to break camp with the team.
‘‘I feel pretty normal for this time of the year,’’ Herrera said.
According to Brooks Baseball, Herrera’s four-seam fastball averaged 97 mph last season. He calls his heater his best pitch, but plenty of breaking stuff is coming out of his hand this spring.
‘‘My fastball is my best pitch, yes, sir,’’ Herrera said. ‘‘But in order for my fastball to be effective, I have to show off-speed stuff.’’
The high-end velocity will be there eventually, he said.
‘‘I will probably be in full shape by April something or May,’’ Herrera said. ‘‘Obviously, here in spring training, you are coming off the offseason, so you aren’t that loose yet. I’m climbing. That is the right word.’’