After offseason 'quest,' Duffy making waves in camp
PHOENIX -- Entering his eighth year in the big leagues, Matt Duffy went new-school in the offseason.
A non-roster invitee to Spring Training with the Royals, where he’s battling for a roster spot, the infielder worked with a new hitting coach during the offseason and made the leap into analytics to fully understand how and why elements of his game work.
This spring, Duffy’s work is showing. His first-inning RBI in a 12-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday in Maryvale was his 5th of Spring Training. Duffy is 9-for-17 (.529) with three doubles in six spring games.
He still does the work he’s always done on conditioning and mechanics, taking over 100 swings in the batting cage every day. But the 32-year-old has found a new way to get inside his own swing, embracing the analytics that have taken on an increased role across baseball.
“It was really fascinating,” Duffy said. “And the more I learn about it, and the way it was presented to me, I think a lot more people would be on board with the newer-age way of thinking. That was a quest that I went on this offseason. It’s hard to argue.”
Duffy’s teammate with the Angels last year, Taylor Ward, connected him with hitting coach Trent Woodward. It took a few months, Duffy said, to get to a level of trust at which he could “hand the keys to his swing” to a new coach.
Today, he calls Woodward “my guy.”
“My whole focus in the offseason was just swing path, and just making sure I’m in the path of the ball for a really long time,” Duffy explained. “That expands my room for error, it makes for better decision making; just being more direct to the baseball, and not having to make a lot of adjustments to get on point. It was extremely difficult and tedious at times.”
Given Duffy’s defensive versatility and solid offensive career -- he has played all four infield positions, and is a career .279/.337/.373 hitter -- he has the potential to be a top bench option for Kansas City. But he’s also valuable in more ways than that, said manager Matt Quatraro, who was bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays when Duffy was on the roster in 2018 and ‘19.
“He questions things, but he does it respectfully. He makes you think about why you’re doing things. He’s very smart, and he’s got a lot of reps under his belt at this level, too,” Quatraro said. “He’s versatile defensively and very steady-handed, and he puts together really good at-bats.”
The Royals had plenty of good at-bats Saturday.
With 14 hits and a four-run first inning, the Royals took an early lead that they would never relinquish, helped out by two scoreless innings from starter Kris Bubic. The lefty made his second spring appearance after a delayed start due to shoulder soreness, and he continued to mix in a slider that has been a while in the making.
Bubic went to the slider early to strike out Milwaukee third baseman Mike Brosseau swinging in the first to help keep an otherwise high-pitch count inning scoreless.
“It was probably my most used offspeed pitch,” said Bubic, who allowed one hit and one walk while fanning two. “I mixed in a couple curveballs, but [mostly used] sliders, changeups and a lot of fastballs. So the stuff feels really good.”
Scheduled to throw only two innings, he made quick work of the second, throwing just 14 pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. He continues to build trust in his slider.
“[It’s] getting there. I don’t want to get too satisfied with it too early,” he said. “But to be able to throw it for strikes and to mix it in, seemingly, with the rest of the arsenal, I think it’s going to be a big weapon for me.”
First baseman Matt Beaty collected two hits and three RBIs for Kansas City, and Clay Dungan and CJ Alexander drove in two runs each in the lopsided win.
Aroldis Chapman came on in relief of Bubic. He threw a perfect inning with three strikeouts, and wowed the crowd by throwing as hard as 102 mph.
Exactly two weeks into Cactus League games, the Royals continue to evaluate their options.
“We didn’t come in here with any timelines, like, ‘We need to know by this date,’” Quatraro said. “Obviously, as we get closer to the end of the camp, we’ll have to make decisions, but that’s what’s been great about these guys. They came in from Day One and just got after it.”