May 21, 2008

Throw-in shows he also can throw

Bats' 5-6 Herrera truly a short reliever, but he might not be long for Louisville

By C.L. Brown
cbrown@courier-journal.comThe Courier-Journal

Danny Herrera is used to being the "short guy," so being the "other guy" in a major trade wasn't new.

The Louisville Bats reliever was the unknown factor the Cincinnati Reds acquired in their December trade with Texas. The Reds sent outfielder Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and Herrera, a 5-foot-6 southpaw reliever.

Hamilton has thrived in Texas, leading all of major league baseball with 50 RBIs going into last night's action. Volquez (7-1) has been a runaway success for the Reds and leads the National League with a 1.33 ERA.

And Herrera?

"He was the other player," Bats manager Rick Sweet said. "Obviously, the main guy (Volquez) is doing great, but Herrera is doing great down here. He keeps moving up the ladder, and we may very well see him at the next level before the year is out."

Promoted from Double-A Chattanooga on April 24, Herrera had two saves and a 0.66 ERA going into last night's game at Indianapolis. He's quietly making a name for himself the same way he always has.

"It wasn't a big deal that I wasn't really mentioned in the trade," he said. "I was a minor league guy just thrown in the mix. I like being kind of behind the scenes to do my own thing."

It's always been that way. Herrera, 23, is the only Bats pitcher under 6 feet tall. The team lists him at 5-8, but he says he's really 5-6.

He almost always has been the shortest pitcher on his team. And usually he's been underestimated.

Herrera is from Odessa, Texas, and went to Permian High School of "Friday Night Lights" fame. When he arrived at the University of New Mexico, pitching coach Ryan Brewer told him he didn't think he had major league potential.

"At the time he was right," Herrera said. "I was an 18-year-old kid with not a lot of stuff. You don't see very many guys with not very much velocity and a small stature make it up there."

As a starter in his final year at New Mexico, Herrera led the team in nearly every major stat, including wins (10-0), ERA (2.24) and strikeouts (104), and was named a third-team All-American by Baseball America.

He said Brewer admitted he was wrong. Herrera credits his former pitching coach for helping him develop the array of pitches he has needed to be effective.

Herrera doesn't overpower hitters but throws several pitches well. Most relievers stick to a fastball and one or two offspeed pitches. Herrera throws what he calls "seven different kinds of smoke."

The best of them is his screwball that, as the name suggests, is quirky and uncommon and leaves most hitters flabbergasted. It also keeps them off-balance and makes his mid-80s fastball more effective.

"His stuff makes him unique," Bats pitching coach Ted Power said. "He knows how to use it against all hitters -- righties, lefties, singles hitters, power hitters. He knows how to mix it up.

"We're not afraid to put him in there at any time."

Most hitters aren't exactly scared to see him coming to the mound, but that's exactly how Herrera likes it.

"I hope they don't think much of me when I first face them," he said. "They know what kind of pitches I throw, but they don't know me. It gives me somewhat of an edge."

Herrera gave up just eight hits and two walks over 132/3 innings in his first 10 appearances with the Bats. It might be hard for him to keep a low profile much longer if he continues to stand tall on the mound.

"If I motivate any other small people to play ball on a higher level, then that's great," he said. "But I keep a simple frame of mind with a simple goal: to make it to the big leagues."

C.L. Brown can be reached at (502) 582-4044.