Think back two years, if you will, to July 16, 2021. Times were better then than they are now for the KC Royals: in stark contrast to this abominable 28-72 season, those Royals stood a disappointing, but slightly more tolerable, 37-52 heading into a night game with Baltimore.
On the mound for Kansas City that evening was Danny Duffy. Making his 13th start of what was shaping up as one of the best seasons of his career, Duffy seemed on the verge of recapturing the magic of 2016, when he went 12-3 to propel himself into the five-year, $65 million contract the club rewarded him with after the campaign ended.
The veteran southpaw and mainstay of the Royal rotation was 4-3 with an excellent 2.53 ERA as he prepared to pitch against the Orioles that night and showed why in the early stages of his club's 9-2 rout of the O's. He faced the minimum through three innings before slipping a bit and surrendering a run in the fourth, a troublesome frame (a walk and a wild pitch) he worked out of by retiring the last three batters he faced.
Unfortunately, that's the last we've seen of Duffy in the majors. A left flexor strain, an injury that sidelined him for over a month earlier in the campaign, forced him to the Injured List again just a few days later. Despite that injury, though, the pitching-hungry Dodgers traded a player to be named later to KC for Duffy, and he headed West to join LA's quest for the playoffs.
Sadly, Duffy didn't throw a single pitch for the Dodgers. Not in 2021, and not last season. Instead, he's pitched on minor league rehabilitation assignments, missed time for surgery, and currently toils away at Texas' Frisco Double-A affiliate, where he's 2-1, 3.31 in 12 relief appearances.
But at 34 and with 11 big league seasons behind him, Duffy might be on his way back to The Show.
The former KC Royals starting pitcher could soon be pitching for Texas
The chance Duffy may find himself in the middle of a legitimate run for the postseason arose a week ago. Bruce Bochy, the ultra-successful manager who guided San Francisco to three World Series championships, including the 2014 title the Giants triumphed over the Royals to win, and who the Rangers lured out of retirement to skipper their promising 2023 club, seemed to hint that Duffy could help down the stretch when, after watching Duffy in a bullpen session last week, he told Inside the Rangers writer Matthew Postins that, "He's coming along really well" and "He feels good about where he's at."
Since then, Duffy pitched against San Antonio twice, giving up a run and two hits in an inning Tuesday and striking out three in two scoreless frames Friday.
Bochy's observations certainly aren't faint praise, especially coming from the probable Hall of Fame skipper who knows a thing or two about stretch runs. Teams don't reach the postseason, and don't survive once they get there, without solid bullpens; if Duffy, whose days as a starter appear numbered—if not over—considering how the Rangers are deploying him in the minors, can help, expect Rangers general manager Chris Young, himself a former Royal, to summon him to Arlington.
Such a move makes sense. Although late-inning work is in the so-far capable hands of Will Smith and ex-Royal Aroldis Chapman, and Bochy's bullpen already has some lefties, Texas could use another effective veteran leader on the staff.
Will Young give his former teammate a chance? He might not—Duffy isn't on Texas' 40-man roster, which means the club would have to sacrifice someone who is to make room for a Duffy promotion. And Young must be convinced Duffy offers meaningful help for a club currently leading the American League West.
We shall see.