KC Royals: Season suddenly uncertain for Danny Duffy

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

The disturbing, unwelcome news about Danny Duffy came out of the blue late Monday. Nothing, really, suggested trouble or concerns about the veteran lefthander who’s been the most consistent of the KC Royals’ starting pitchers this season.

Duffy is injured. A left forearm flexor strain forced him to the 10-day Injured List, with a retroactive effective date of May 14. Although the Royals have released little information about the injury and, as of late Monday night, nothing about its origin, when Duffy will return to action is unknown, and neither club nor pitcher are offering any projections.

That injuries to a pitcher’s throwing arm are always cause for alarm can be especially so with forearm flexor strains. Count them among the many inherent risks of throwing a baseball, risks compounded by the incredible demands of doing so at the highest level of this sport.

Specifically, but without the burden of excessive medical jargon, a “forearm flexor mass strain” strikes, as a result of a single pitch or repetitive use, that group of tendons and muscle that bundle near the elbow in the forearm, without which the wrist actions required to successfully complete various pitches wouldn’t be possible.

Not uncommon is discovering a pitcher initially diagnosed with a flexor injury requires Tommy John surgery, the replacement of the ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon typically taken from elsewhere in the pitcher’s body. Surgeons successfully complete such procedures every year, but TJS usually require at least a year of rehabilitation.

That isn’t to say, by any means, that Duffy is headed for TJS—it’s far, far too early to tell. But the mere mention of elbow problems for Duffy brings his own Tommy Joh surgery immediately to mind. He underwent TJS in 2012, then returned the following August and went 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts for the KC Royals before his first left flexor strain sidelined him for the final two weeks of the season.

Danny Duffy appeared to be pitching without trouble for the KC Royals.

Nothing publicly obvious foretold this latest injury. Duffy was pitching better than he has since 2016, when he turned a 12-3, 3.51 campaign into a lucrative five-year, $65 million deal that ends after this season. Through Sunday, he was 4-3, 1.94 with a 10.4 SO9 and 2.6 BB9, and was consistently making his case to remain a Royal.

Some might conclude, though, that Duffy’s last two starts provided evidence of something gone awry. After going 4-1, 0.60 in his first five games, the three earned runs he surrendered in his sixth were one more than opponents nicked him for in those five previous outings. Then he gave up four more runs in six innings against Detroit May 12.

But Duffy’s pitch velocities, although not conclusive, may suggest otherwise. According to Brooks Baseball, Duffy threw his entire complement of pitches harder against Detroit than he had six days before against Cleveland; those May 12 velos weren’t as high as in some of his previous starts, but they were higher than in others.

In the end, however, just when and how Duffy incurred this latest injury are only two pieces of the puzzle. The overriding issues now are long-term prognosis and recovery, resolutions of which may take time.

Duffy was next up in the rotation and presumably would have pitched against Milwaukee tonight. Kris Bubic will start instead, and the Royals will presumably fill Duffy’s roster spot before the game.

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Danny Duffy had been pitching so well for the KC Royals. Now, his promising season has suddenly turned uncertain.