The Royals are looking to rebound from a terrible series against Cleveland in a season where they’re supposed to turn the corner from being the “same old Royals” and becoming a threat in the AL Central.
After a first run through the starting rotation went well – the group gave up just five earned runs over 30 combined innings – the second time through didn’t work out for Luke Hochevar (seven earned in four-plus innings), Jonathan Sanchez (five earned in 2.2 innings) and Luis Mendoza (five of nine runs allowed earned in four-plus innings).
The Royals need someone to step up and the candidates aren’t appealing.
Danny Duffy has the chance to be that guy. The Royals need a big performance – they need a “stopper”. Duffy faces Justin Verlander and the AL-Central-favored Detroit Tigers. After the home opening series, the Royals seem to be on the verge of another loss if something doesn’t change. In a way, it’s a great test for him and fortunate timing. Looking over the Royals rotation, they may be fortunate that it’s Duffy on the mound on Monday rather than anyone else.
Hochevar is notable for his inconsistencies. He’s shown that he can dominate a lineup at times. He went through a stretch of 31 straight batters retired in a row over two starts last season, and his 80 pitch complete game against Cincinnati and 13 strikeout, no walk performance against Texas in 2009 are often cited as examples of how good Hochevar can be at times.
Sanchez can be dominant too. He has a no-hitter on his resume and in 2010 had the lowest number of hits against per nine innings among qualifying starters. He’s a strikeout guy who can miss bats, but unfortunately, he also misses the strike zone. When he’s off, it’s ugly. He’s high risk and high reward, and on top of that he’s prone to high pitch counts per inning, so he’s not a guarantee to make it through six innings regardless of if he’s pitching well or not. That volatility makes it difficult to rely on him.
There are a lot of opinions on Luis Mendoza. Many think he’s capable of success after a changed arm slot brought him success in Omaha. Some are willing to look at his performance in 2011 and in spring training and give him the opportunity to prove himself. Others, like myself, just don’t see any one statistical area that suggests a new skill development (and in fact, his ground ball rate decreased in 2011 from its typical standing ). If he has changed his stripes, he’ll be one of the exceptions. In 2012, he’s had efforts on both sides of the coin. He held Oakland to one run over 5.2 innings but was hit around on Sunday against Cleveland. He’s going to have more contact on his pitches than most starters, which can result in more ground balls (he got 11 outs off 10 ground balls on Sunday with one strikeout). That can also result in more hits, and Mendoza has allowed 22 baserunners in 9.2 innings pitched – 14 of those are base hits. For now, it hasn’t been decided.
Bruce Chen is probably the Royals most consistent starter over the last year and change, but he’s got to have his location to be on and if he doesn’t he can get hit hard. He’s more of a fly ball pitcher which can be problematic. He’s done well in his first two starts so far after a rough spring.
After a strong six inning performance where Duffy allowed just one hit and struck out eight, he can put another performance behind his strong words in spring. Duffy was one of the most vocal members of the team in discussing a chip on the collective shoulder of the pitching staff.
Duffy has been one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, and after a rough year and a half from Mike Montgomery, who had another rough start in Omaha, he may be the lone pitching prospect near the majors to take that “stopper” role on.
He has a tough matchup. The A’s aren’t the Tigers, and Lorenzo Cain isn’t in centerfield to stave off potential triples. The Royals have had trouble sustaining consistent rallies and facing Justin Verlander isn’t a good way to turn that around. Runs are going to come at a premium, which means preventing them is vital.
Duffy’s stuff was great against Oakland and it will need to be again. His curveball will have to match the sharpness he had with it on the west coast. His fastball has to avoid bats. All night long, he missed bats. He’ll have to have that magic again.
If he can, he’ll provide a boost to a young team that could use a hero right now. It won’t be easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. The team needs to learn to hold off the long losing streaks that have plagued so many teams in the past. At times, they’ve had Zack Greinke or Gil Meche, but often didn’t have some of the offensive potential and strong pitching didn’t always receive great run support. Now, they have the potential to put up runs but need a player to step in to shut down the other lineup.
Duffy has that opportunity. If he succeeds, it’s something to build on. If he doesn’t, the Royals could be looking at these sorts of prolonged skids until someone figures out how to stop the bleeding. I think Duffy’s the guy to do it and Monday is his chance to show it.