After a weekend when only one Royals starter got into the sixth inning and all three combined to give up 16 runs (15 earned), it’s hard to overstate how much Kansas City needed a deep and quality start to open the two-game series in Cleveland on Monday.
That’s exactly what Danny Duffy gave them.
The veteran left-hander delivered six scoreless innings in the Royals’ 3-0 win at Progressive Field on Monday afternoon, allowing just two hits and striking out five on 97 pitches (58 strikes).
Kansas City worked from behind in all three games over Opening Weekend and was able to overcome two deficits on Thursday and Saturday before running out of momentum Sunday against the Rangers. Starters Brad Keller, Mike Minor and Brady Singer posted a 12.66 ERA over the three games, the highest in the Majors over Opening Weekend. Minor was the only one who got to the sixth inning, but he still allowed four early runs.
“I don’t think it was as much our bullpen being beat up as it was we need our starters to lead this staff,” manager Mike Matheny said. “And part of that is to continue to take the ball deep into games. Danny was fantastic.
“It’s really hard to guess along when he had a couple good pitches that he could go to any time for strikes. It was as good as I’ve seen Danny, and as good of a time for us as any to have a start like that.”
Duffy’s strong start couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Royals planning to rely on their relievers for Wednesday’s game after Tuesday’s off-day.
Duffy was also able to pitch with the lead -- another first for a Royals starter this season. Whit Merrifield's two-run shot in the second inning off Cleveland lefty Logan Allen was his third homer in four games. Merrifield’s sacrifice fly in the seventh gave the Royals an insurance run -- and brought his RBI total to nine on the season. And the bullpen backed up Duffy with three scoreless innings, helped along by first baseman Carlos Santana, playing his former club for the first time, beginning a stellar double play to get right-hander Jesse Hahn out of jam with two on and no outs in the ninth inning.
“It was nice for us to come out and pitch like we know we can,” Merrifield said. “We know all our starters are capable of that. The first three games didn’t quite go as we envisioned. But that happens. We have confidence in all our guys -- our starters, our bullpen, our lineup."
At times, Duffy struggled with his fastball location, evidenced by the three walks and long early innings. In the fourth inning, he allowed a two-out double to Franmil Reyes and then issued a four-pitch walk to Amed Rosario before catcher Salvador Perez used a mound visit to give Duffy time before they got Josh Naylor to fly out to left field, ending the inning.
“He came out and gave me a little breather,” Duffy said. “I was missing my fastball arm side and he wanted to get it reset. It was the perfect timing for that and ended up figuring it out."
Duffy’s fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch, but he was able to mix in his changeup effectively, especially behind in the count to get contact and rely on the defense behind him. His curveball got sharper later in the game, and he struck out Cesar Hernandez with it to end the third inning after making an adjustment.
“I shortened my stride and made a couple of adjustments and got a guy to swing over it and got some weak contact with it after the third inning,” Duffy said.
In 11 starts last season, Duffy finished the sixth inning just twice. But after a strong Spring Training where his focus was on his preparation for starts and in between starts, he’s started the season with a quality outing -- and neither he nor the Royals think this is where he peaks.
“I think there’s a whole new Danny Duffy out there,” Matheny said. “I really do. ... I just see a level of commitment right now that looks unique to me. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence when you have that kind of preparation and that kind of attention to detail and how you ready yourself, that the end product is better. I’m just anticipating watching a lot of this Danny Duffy.”