Danny Duffy has been a bit of an enigma during his time with the Kansas City Royals. He had struggled during his first major league season in 2011, and appeared to be making progress in 2012 before being shut down after six starts due to a torn ligament and Tommy John surgery. He appeared to come back better than he had been before during his brief run in 2013, posting a 1.85 ERA and a 1.356 WHiP in his five starts. The Royals were understandably cautious with Duffy during his return, as he pitched into the seventh only once. However, despite that caution, Duffy still missed the end of the season due to a strained elbow.
Now, over a year removed from that surgery, the Royals have taken the reins off of Danny Duffy. The early returns from his time in camp appear to be promising. According to Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, Duffy is not only in the best shape he has been in since being drafted, but his pitches look much sharper. He has displayed command of his fastball, and his curve has been sharp, breaking hard instead of floating downward.
Right now, according to pitching coach Dave Eiland, the plan is for Duffy to pitch between 150 to 175 innings this season. Even at the high end of that projection, if Duffy is able to pitch six innings each time out, that would leave him with 29 starts, necessitating that he would either need to have his season end early, or start later.
The best option for Danny Duffy may be to start him in the bullpen. While the Royals will need to utilize their fifth starter early in the season, that spot may be held down by either Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis or Luke Hochevar. While Davis and Hochevar may not be the best choices for the rotation, they would likely need to hold a spot down for a month or so. Meanwhile, Duffy could have his inning count managed while still providing a role in long relief. Once May rolls around, Duffy could then be inserted into the rotation, replacing either Davis or Hochevar. Should Ventura win the fifth starter spot and be preforming well in the first month, then perhaps Duffy could replace Bruce Chen, moving Chen back to the spot starter/long reliever role that he thrived in last season.
Duffy had been expected to be one of the young starters that would help to lead the Royals rotation going forward. Based on the early indications, Duffy may be ready to fulfill that promise. Yet, with the expected innings limit, it will be interesting to see what role the Royals slot Duffy in to start the season. If he is in the bullpen, then Duffy could be the second lefty, teaming up with Tim Collins. If he starts the season in the rotation, then his innings may be managed early on, as Duffy may find himself on a pitch count through the first month to month and a half of the season.
After two seasons plagued by injuries, most of the restrictions have been removed from Danny Duffy. Now, the Royals may be able to find out exactly what they have in him.