Collins, Royals bullpen hopes to heat up in 2013

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Tim Collins is listed at 5-foot-7, which might be generous. His presence in the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen, however, looms quite large.

The left-hander led AL relief pitchers with 93 strikeouts in only 69 2/3 innings last season.

“I was surprised,” Collins said. “My strikeouts were up a lot from the year before. That’s not something I tried to do. My command was a lot better, so it just happened I got a lot more strikeouts.”

Collins struck out 60 and walked 48 in 67 innings as a rookie in 2011. In 2012, his walks dropped to 34, while he struck out 33 more.

“I always had a lot of strikeouts in the minor leagues,” he said. “My command suffered a little bit my first year. I think that’s where my strikeout numbers suffered. The following year my walks were down, my command was better and my strikeouts were up. I put myself in a lot more situations and counts where I was able to throw my strikeout pitches and get more strikeouts.”

Collins was only Royals player to be selected for the United States team in the World Baseball Classic.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Collins said. “I made my decision within a day. It was kind of a last-minute thing.”

Collins first ran the idea by the Royals for their OK.

“Within a day, I gave them my answer,” he said. “I had no idea I would even be asked. I was excited. For me, it won’t really set in until I’m there. I’m feeling honored. It’s pretty cool.”

Collins’ fastball velocity is in the 92-93 mph range, but he can touch 95-96. He joins closer Greg Holland, who has a mid-90s mph fastball, and right-handed setup men Kelvin Herrera, who lights up radar guns at 100 mph, and Aaron Crow, who was a 2011 AL All-Star as a rookie.

This is the third season the four have been together in the Kansas City bullpen.

“We’ve got a good group of guys out there and kind of had for the last couple of years,” Holland said. “We’ve all continued to get better and more consistent. I think we all trust each other and more importantly I think the starting pitching trusts us, too, coming in with runners on and getting out of jams.”

Holland averaged 12.22 strikeouts per nine innings, which was second among AL pitchers who threw at least 60 innings last season. After Jonathan Broxton was traded on July 31 to Cincinnati, Holland took over as the closer and posted 16 saves in 18 opportunities.

With the addition of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis to the rotation, the Kansas City bullpen may not have to work as many innings this season with the starters going deeper into games.

“Let’s hope so,” Holland said. “Hopefully, we’re in a playoff race at the end of the year and if our starting pitching does like they are expected to do we’re going to be fresh coming out of the bullpen late in the season.”

Herrera set a Royals rookie record last season by pitching in 76 games. Collins has made 140 relief appearances the past two seasons, while Crow has pitched in 130 games.

With those four set to pitch the final three innings, there is only one spot open in the bullpen. Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza, who were starters last year, are competing for the final rotation slot.

The two that don’t start will go to the bullpen as long men. That leaves only one bullpen vacancy.

“It’s going to be a really balanced bullpen,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ll be able to handle all different scenarios. We think we’ve got starting pitching that can go deep. We’ve got guys who can pick up innings in Mendoza and either Chen or Hochevar. And we’ve got the back-end guys. We feel we’re in pretty good shape.”

Notes: C Salvador Perez homered off Collins on Tuesday in an intrasquad game that ended up in a 5-all tie after 6 1/2 innings. Minor league 3B Cheslor Cuthbert hit a two-run homer. Chen yielded a RBI double to Eric Hosmer in a two-run first. ... Rookie LHP John Lamb, who has pitched scant innings the past two seasons after having elbow surgery in 2011, is scheduled to throw an inning in an intrasquad game today. ... CF Lorenzo Cain is held out of the intrasquad games with a right hand injury, but could return this weekend when the Royals open their exhibition season Friday with the Texas Rangers.

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