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Duffy nears full recovery after missing all of '17

Two surgeries to Achilles kept Rays infielder out
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Duffy feels like his 2017 nightmare is in the past, and he's ready to rejoin the Major Leagues.

Duffy recently had his first day of running on a track. He's been doing therapy three times a week to make sure everything around his left Achilles is solid.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Duffy feels like his 2017 nightmare is in the past, and he's ready to rejoin the Major Leagues.

Duffy recently had his first day of running on a track. He's been doing therapy three times a week to make sure everything around his left Achilles is solid.

"I really feel like I've come a long way with the strength, that's for sure," Duffy said.

Despite having season-ending Achilles surgery in September 2016, Duffy arrived at Spring Training last year earmarked to be the starting shortstop. That forecast did not come to fruition.

Duffy began the season on the disabled list and continued to have setbacks. Eventually, his Achilles required a second surgery and he missed all of 2017.

"I've really come a long way," Duffy said. "Six months ago, if you would have said this is where you're going to be in December and January, I would have been like, 'Oh my God, get me on the field now.'"

The Rays acquired Duffy in the four-player trade that sent Matt Moore to the Giants on Aug. 1, 2016. He took over at shortstop for the Rays and did not make an error in 18 games. He hit .276 with a home run and seven RBIs in 21 games before surgery ended his 2016.

Duffy still has a hard time believing he missed the 2017 season.

"It was a weird, weird year. I always felt like I was really close to getting on the field. Also, really far," he said with a laugh. "Just strange, man. I've never been through anything like that. I hope I've gained a better perspective on things, and baseball."

Now that the Rays have traded Evan Longoria to the Giants, Duffy appears to be the Rays' most logical choice to play third base, the position he played for the Giants before the Rays acquired him.

If the Rays do intend for Duffy to play third, they haven't tipped their hand yet.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," Duffy said. "I understand there's possibly more moves to be made. [The Rays] could go in a lot of different directions here. Next month is going to tell us a lot. But they haven't spoken to me specifically about where they want me to be, or expect me to be. I think that's because they don't know what the next month will bring."

Duffy said he's "just trying to stay prepared in as many ways as possible." That translates to work mostly at shortstop and third, but he's prepared to get used to the other side of the infield if he's needed at second, too.

"I will say that I love third base," Duffy said. "So if they were to tell me that I'm now the third baseman, I would welcome that and be extremely happy. But if they want me to play somewhere else, OK."

Duffy's health is the main issue at hand, though, and he believes he's turned the corner.

"I'm just finally to the point where I'm not worried at all. No anxiety," Duffy said. "[Anxiety] was hanging over my head all year. Even when I felt good, I'd be like, 'When am I not going to feel good? Which step is going to set me back for five days?'

"I'm much more relaxed. That's translated to better swings, my fielding and all aspects. I feel quicker and more consistent. It's not a game you can play with a lot of anxiety or tension. It's a fluid kind of sport."

And a sport he can't wait to begin playing again.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Duffy