For the first time this season, Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy didn’t look like a shell of his best self.
He tossed seven scoreless innings in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Athletics at Oakland Coliseum and earned his second victory in four starts.
He yielded a trio each of hits and walks, struck out 10 batters and rarely failed to locate his 98 pitches.
He bounced back from a start in which he had allowed two homers and struck out no one in Anaheim to put together his most dominant outing of the season, one that capped a recent string of success.
And all it took for Duffy to overcome the extended period of futility that plagued him the first seven weeks of the season was a renewed focus on the anchoring pitch in his arsenal: his mid-90s fastball.
“I’ve just been getting behind it more, maybe not so much trust but throwing it through the catcher,” Duffy said.
Duffy had publicly puzzled over his ineptitude. He was inconsistent on the mound for so long that his 6.81 ERA entering a start on May 24 was the worst in baseball. He’d never struggled for so long without being able to pinpoint a solution.
But he finally locked in on part of the problem after the Yankees blew Duffy up for five runs on seven hits and three walks in four innings on May 19 at Kauffman Stadium.
Split his previous three starts away from his roughest stretch of the season, and you find this: Between taking the mound in Arlington on May 24 and Monday’s four-run outing in Anaheim, Duffy threw nearly 61 percent fastballs and 19 percent sliders. When he allowed 30 earned runs in six starts from April 21 through May 19, Duffy threw his fastball just 53.7 percent of the time and his breaking ball 28.8 percent.
He struggled to establish himself in the strike zone as a result, and hitters took advantage: They amassed an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.073 during those six starts.
In taking a step back from relying so much on his slider — a plus pitch that on Saturday he back-doored to hitters — Duffy has found success with his change-up again. He threw it 34 times in 96 pitches, according to MLB’s Statcast system, and struck out four batters on it.
“They don’t know if it’s a fastball or a change-up. The arm action is the same,” Royals catcher Salvador Perez said.
It may help that, historically, Duffy has encountered success against the A’s. He entered the game having limited their hitters to a .175 batting average and 14 earned runs in seven career appearances. His first career victory came in this very stadium against Oakland almost seven years ago on June 14, 2011. Prior success wasn’t far from Royals manager Ned Yost’s mind.
“It just seems like every time we come to Oakland, I have a really good feeling,” he said. “He always pitches well here.”
But, really, it comes down to one thing: When Duffy focuses on the basics, he’s good enough to stop teams like the A’s, a group that ranks tied for fifth-most home runs in baseball with 81, from doing damage.
There's work yet to be done. Duffy's ERA, now down to 5.28, is still among the 10 highest in baseball. That's not where the Royals need the de facto leader of their starting pitching staff to rank.
But Saturday's outing proved things are trending in the right direction.
“He looked like the Danny Duffy we know he can be,” Alex Gordon said.