Duffy shines, reaches 1,000-K mark

April 20th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- knew that he was approaching the milestone, but he wasn’t too wrapped up in it. Even when he achieved it in the fourth inning of the Royals’ 4-1 loss to the Rays on Monday night, he was stoic as he walked off the mound, focused on the next inning and the next batter he would face.

Duffy allowed himself a smile, though, when his teammates lined up to congratulate him on career strikeout No. 1,000, which he notched by striking out Rays outfielder Manuel Margot on a 94 mph fastball.

“It’s something I knew I was approaching, but I don’t really concern myself with that stuff,” Duffy said. “But when it happened and when my boys came over and congratulated me, it did mean a lot. Really thankful to be here as long as I have.”

In the Royals’ forgettable loss -- three of the four runs were unearned because of Carlos Santana’s dropped popup at first base and a grounder that got by Whit Merrifield at second -- the way Duffy pitched was not. Not only did he pass Tom Gordon in strikeouts for sixth all-time in Royals history, he continued a run of success that he’s started the season with: The two runs he allowed in six innings were unearned, lowering his season ERA to 0.50.

Consistency has been Duffy’s challenge over his career; he’s had streaks of excellence, but he's struggled with injuries and other battles at times. But so far in 2021, he’s been the model of consistency for a rotation that was shaky on quality starts to begin the year. Duffy has only allowed one earned run in 18 innings, with 19 strikeouts.

“I love talking about the Danny I’m watching show up here every day,” manager Mike Matheny said. “The one who’s doing his work in between his starts, how he’s competing, how he’s working with his teammates. I just don’t think it’s coincidence you’re seeing the kind of production you’re getting because of how consistently he’s going about his work. Just try to keep him in that space. What a great accomplishment for him.”

Duffy’s velocity is up at least 1 mph on all five of his pitches, most notably his fastball: He averaged 92.2 mph on the pitch last year and is now up to 93.9 mph. He added weight this offseason, giving him strength on his heater that he remarked last week that he hasn’t seen in a “long time.”

Aside from Duffy's physical changes, there has also been a mindset change. In the final year of his contract with the only team he’s ever played for, Duffy has described an inner peace after a year of self reflection that’s allowed him to start the season on the right track.

“I think in year’s past, a lot of my struggles have been fighting against myself,” Duffy said. “The mind’s a powerful tool, and it can work for you or it could work against you. … And then aside from that, just really the physical stuff was working in the offseason, continuing to throw, and just trying to harness and revamp what I have in the tank.

“I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot physically and really good spot mentally, and I’m really thankful for both of those.”

On Monday, Duffy faced trouble in the sixth inning as he neared 100 pitches, and he loaded the bases with a single and back-to-back walks with one out. But Matheny stayed with Duffy, and Duffy delivered.

After a ball in the dirt and two swinging strikes, Duffy got Francisco Mejía to hit a weak chopper right back to the mound. Duffy threw home to catcher Salvador Perez, who turned the 1-2-3 double play.

“When we get into a situation like that and we’re able to wiggle out of it, it’s a big push for the boys,” Duffy said. “It’s a big play, Salvy threw a dime.”

One week after Perez, Duffy’s longtime batterymate, notched his 1,000th hit as a Royal, Duffy notched his 1,000th strikeout. The two have been throwing to each other since 2007, the year Duffy was drafted in the third round out of Cabrillo High School (Lompoc, Calif.) and a year after Kansas City signed Perez out of Venezuela. Both made their debut in 2011, and both were a big part of the Royals' 2014-15 World Series appearances.

Now? Both are key pieces and veterans of the revival the Royals are hoping to see this season. It wasn’t lost on Duffy that Perez was the one he threw his 1,000th strikeout to, either. Of Duffy’s 1,002 career strikeouts, Perez has caught 537 of them (53.6 percent).

“He’s caught the majority of my pitches. I think it’s only right,” Duffy said. “He’s a brother to me. He was the first teammate that I met when I got to the [Arizona League]. For us to share that achievement, it’s special. I’m not into personal accolades, but I’m definitely proud of that one.”