Danny Duffy returned to the big leagues with a 93 pitch start that lasted 3.2 innings.
From the start, Duffy was going to be on a pitch limit. Before the game, Ned Yost had suggested a 90-100 range, which matched the range he’d worked recently in Omaha. In the minors, in both rehab starts and starts made after being activated from the 60 day disabled list, his longest start was 6.1 innings (on July 10) with starts of 5.1 innings, 5 innings, and 5.1 innings since.
So I don’t think anyone in the organization was expecting a deep start.
Duffy threw 29 pitches in the first inning, allowing a leadoff triple to Brian Dozier, then throwing a curveball to the screen that allowed him to score. Most of his pitches in that first inning were fastballs (22 of them, according to Brooks Baseball). Towards the end of the inning, he started to change his selection more and finished the inning with a strikeout on a changeup.
From there, he settled down a bit but still struggled with command. His curveball was not there tonight, and only one was a strike that wasn’t put in play. As a result, he relied on his changeup more, throwing eight of thirteen for strikes and not one was put in play. He got a swing and a miss on three of those changeups. Overall, he threw 54 strikes in 93 pitches (but did get 43 of 67 fastballs over for a strike).
Despite some of those command problems, his fastball had the velocity that he’d had at the start of 2012. He was working in the mid-to-upper 90s all night and generated nine swinging strikes from it. That allowed him to put up seven strikeouts in his 2013 Kansas City debut and shows why so many are behind him making a comeback. Behind Ervin Santana and James Shields, Duffy would have the best pure stuff in a Royals rotation, and one could argue the stuff could be better than either of those two. For Duffy, it’s more about being able to harness those weapons.
Three times he started an inning and surpassed 20 pitches. In the one inning that didn’t go that far, he threw 19. That’s the biggest obstacle for Duffy to overcome. Tonight, maybe some of that was due to nerves. Maybe he was too anxious to be out there on the mound again and rushed himself. Still, it’s something he has to get under control for him to best realize his potential.
I’m a fan of strikeout pitchers. To me, the less balls in play, the better. Very few runners reach as a result of a strikeout, but even a perfect pitch that breaks a bat and results in a soft blooper can end up as a hit. Anytime you add the variables of the field, the defensive positioning, the reactions of the fielders behind you, and every other little thing that can jump up out there, you provide the ball an opportunity to sneak through.
But getting strikeouts will usually blow up pitch counts, and that’s what Duffy runs into. Tonight, he got eleven outs. Four involved the defense. I wouldn’t suggest he take the pitch to contact approach, but he can be more efficient.
Most pitchers will take a year to start throwing after Tommy John surgery and usually, it’s still a few months after that before they get fully comfortable getting back into the feel of pitching every fifth day. Duffy had many of these same problems before his injury, but I also don’t think that he’s as sharp as he can be. I also don’t think he’ll ever be a guy who gets through seven innings every start. Part of his identity as a pitcher is that strikeout guy and with that will come some walks. Still, he’s a lefty with a usually good curve and a pretty good changeup that complement a 95+ mph fastball. Those are rare and organizations will let those guys get every chance to start before giving up on them.
No move has been made yet but I’d expect Duffy to return to Omaha and get back to his normal schedule while the Royals activate Wade Davis and get him back into his usual spot. Duffy may return on August 16 as the 26th player for their double header against Detroit and then return to Omaha once again until September.
From that point, Duffy might be a nice weapon if the Royals are still in it. Yes, he has some problems getting deep into games, but three innings of Danny Duffy can be dynamic and if he controls his walks, he’s a nice bullpen option in that month of expanded rosters. It would give the Royals some flexibility if Davis of Chen are having an off day through two or three innings. Duffy could come in and cover three or four innings and extend the game a bit. His ability to miss bats gives the Royals a sort of secret weapon.
They’d just prefer to be up front about it and use him every fifth day.