The Washington Nationals sent three minor league prospects to the Kansas City Royals for closer Kelvin Herrera in a move designed to shore up their bullpen.
Herrera is expected to slot in to the back of the bullpen alongside current Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, adding a right-handed option to close out games or pitch in high-leverage situations in a setup role.
Doolittle Welcomes Herrera
The Nationals haven�t been terrible out of the bullpen this year, ranking sixth in the National League in relief ERA. But other than Doolittle, who has racked up 18 saves and a 1.47 ERA, nobody else has been reliable in big spots, something they hope Herrera can fix.
�You get a guy who�s pitched in every high-leverage role from the seventh inning on,� Doolittle said of Herrera while speaking to reporters. �He�s won a World Series. He�s battle-tested. We�re planning on playing some really meaningful games down the stretch and making a run into the playoffs. We�re gonna need some help.�
Herrera is a two-time All-Star who has consistently been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past five years. He was a key part of the dominant Kansas City bullpen that helps the team win the 2015 World Series, allowing just one earned run over 13.2 innings during the postseason that year.
So far this season, Herrera has compiled a 1.05 ERA and 14 saves in 27 appearances for the Royals.
�He�s really good,� Nationals manager Davey Martinez told reporters. �He�s going to fit right in. He�s closed games, he�s come in in the eighth. For me, we have an All-Star closer right now, so he�ll be asked to do some different things so he�ll fit right in.�
Struggling Harper Holds Back Nats Offense
Washington (38-32) hasn�t yet lived up to expectations this season, though they still find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race. They are tied for second in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the surprising Atlanta Braves.
The Nationals have benefitted from one of the most consistent starting rotations in the majors, and an already solid bullpen should get only stronger with the addition of Herrera. The biggest questions facing the team going forward may instead be on the offensive end, where Washington hasn�t been nearly as explosive as expected heading into the season.
After a hot start, superstar outfielder Bryce Harper has been unable to get anything going at the plate. Harper is hitting an anemic .135 in June with just one home run.
�I watch him and he gets a little frustrated,� Martinez told reporters after a 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto on Saturday. �The biggest thing is just to keep him level-headed and let him go out there and do his thing.�
Daniel Murphy is also just coming back from injury, and has yet to contribute much to the team. One bright spot has been the play of 19-year-old rookie outfielder Juan Soto, who is hitting .325 with six homers in his first 25 games.
Despite those question marks, the Nationals have played well enough to keep themselves in solid position heading into the summer. Bookmakers have kept them among the handful of leading contenders to win the World Series this season: at 9/1 according to William Hill, Washington (along with the Chicago Cubs) shares the best odds of any NL team, with only the Red Sox (7/1), Astros (9/2) and Yankees (9/2) ranking ahead of them.