KANSAS CITY -- Danny Duffy's mind could not help but go to that day in May 2012, when he faced three White Sox batters in the first inning before feeling pain in his left elbow that ultimately led to Tommy John surgery. In the first part of this season, the veteran Royals starter has felt soreness in his forearm that he couldn’t shake off while playing catch over the weekend.
But the imaging he had negated any worries that had crept into Duffy’s mind. His MRI was negative for ligament damage, instead showing a forearm flexor strain. Despite landing on the 10-day injured list on Monday, Duffy is thankful his current injury isn’t something worse.
“When I blew out nine years ago, it was progressive,” Duffy said. “It went slowly. Finally, in Chicago on Mother’s Day in 2012, it went on a curveball. Obviously that was in the back of my mind, but after [head athletic trainer] Nick [Kenney] and the doc were like, ‘Dude, you’re going to be just fine,’ I think the biggest worry of the day was getting in that tube because I’m claustrophobic. But we got it done, we handled it. The images were as good of news as it could have been, albeit I still have to go on the IL.
“I’m very confident that this is going to be a speed bump, and we’ll be just fine.”
Still, losing Duffy for the foreseeable future -- the move is retroactive to Friday -- is a big loss to the Royals' rotation. He’s been the club's most reliable starter this season, posting a 1.94 ERA in seven starts, which ranks seventh in MLB among qualified starters. He’s struck out 48 in 41 2/3 innings. His last start on Wednesday against Detroit was his worst of the season, and he still allowed just four runs in six innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks.
“I definitely hurt for him, but I know that this is probably just going to be a pause,” manager Mike Matheny added. “We knew that we’d just have to keep an eye on it, but unfortunately, this one didn’t bounce back like he wanted to. And I think it was getting a look at it, getting the pictures, to give him peace of mind, especially guys who have been under the knife before. They need to see what’s going on in there and to know, ‘OK, let’s put a plan [together], get this information out and move forward.’”
Duffy’s next turn in the rotation was set for Tuesday against the Brewers, and he said that he was “pretty confident” he could have made the start. But he and the Royals decided they weren’t going to push it further and instead prescribed rest for the next five days before assessing. There isn’t a timeline yet for Duffy’s return; it could be longer based on how he responds to the rest and treatment.
Lefty Kris Bubic started Tuesday's series opener instead, and Brad Keller will follow in the two-game set at Kauffman Stadium. Bubic had appeared in long relief for the Royals this month, allowing just two runs in 12 2/3 innings.
It’s unclear yet what this means for the fifth starter spot, now that Bubic has taken over Duffy’s spot in the rotation. The Royals could use their three scheduled off-days over the next week to run with a four-man rotation until next Tuesday against Tampa Bay, or they could call up a fifth starter.
When the club scheduled a media conference with Duffy via Zoom before Tuesday’s game, many jumped to conclusions about his diagnosis and status on the roster. The Royals, though, were just being transparent with a prominent player; if COVID-19 protocols hadn’t moved media access to Zoom-only, reporters would be in the clubhouse asking Duffy in person the same questions about his injury.
“This is not Tommy John, and I’m not retiring,” Duffy said with a grin. “Takes a lot more to get rid of me, man.”