A Wednesday night that initially focused on Danny Duffy’s return to the big leagues turned into a statement performance by the Royals’ bullpen in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Duffy lasted just 32/3 innings in his first big-league appearance since leaving a May 13, 2012 game in Chicago because of elbow pain later diagnosed as a torn ligament. That led to Tommy John surgery.
Once Duffy exited, the Royals turned to their bullpen and got 51/3 scoreless innings from Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland while their attack rallied for the victory.
The best bullpen in the league?
“Yeah, and I feel we’re just now really clicking as a whole unit,” Holland said. “We’ve been good all year, but we’ve got guys who can be really dominant. It showed today.”
Wednesday’s performance lowered the unit’s ERA to 2.80 and that — look it up — is the best in the American League.
“One guy does well,” Crow said, “everyone else wants to do well, too. Duffy had a high pitch count, so we knew a lot of guys were going to get used. I think everyone was ready to go.”
Holland worked the ninth inning for his 30th save, including his 23rd straight successful conversion. Coleman, 2-0, got the victory after stretching his season-long scoreless streak to 161/3 innings.
The Royals did enough at the plate, too, in rallying from a 2-1 deficit against Minnesota starter Sam Deduno, who had dominated them in his brief career — allowing just two earned runs in 191/3 previous innings.
“He’s had our number,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “He’s got a lot of movement on his ball, but we made him come into the zone. If he was going to get us out, get us out in the zone.
“We just made him work, and he had a lot of stressful innings.”
The Royals nicked Deduno, 7-5, for four runs and 12 hits in 52/3 innings.
Alex Gordon tied the game with a lead-off homer in the fourth before Alcides Escobar capped an two-out rally later in the inning with an RBI single. Lorenzo Cain added an RBI single in the fifth.
Butler and Gordon produced the final run by hitting successive one-out doubles in the seventh against reliever Caleb Thielbar.
The victory represented a bounce-back effort for the Royals after Tuesday’s 7-0 loss. It was also their 15th victory in 19 games since the All-Star break and boosted their record to 58-53.
Manager Ned Yost said he anticipated the possibility of a long night for the bullpen because Duffy, even prior to his injury, had a history of running up his pitch count early in games.
Specifically, Yost said he rode James Shields for six innings in Tuesday’s blowout loss in order to protect his relief corps.
“I wanted to have a fresh bullpen knowing that this might be a possibility,” Yost said, “and that we could protect a one- or two-run lead from the fourth or fifth inning on. That’s exactly what happened.”
There were some anxious moments in the closing innings.
Herrera, wobbled a bit through the eighth after a leadoff walk to Chris Colabello and a one-out walk to Trevor Plouffe, which brought the tying run to the plate.
Herrera struck out Oswaldo Arcia but, facing Clete Thomas, threw a wild pitch that moved the runners to third. The threat ended when Thomas grounded to third.
That came after Crow worked around trouble in the seventh inheriting a 4-2 lead in the seventh from Collins with one out and nobody on. Brian Dozier reached on a single through third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Dozier stole second and went to third when Jamey Carroll single to right, but Crow wiggled free when Justin Morneau grounded into a first-short-pitcher (3-6-1) double play.
The Royals then extended their lead later in the inning on one-out doubles by Butler and Gordon against Thielbar. Gordon’s double was the 200th of his career.
As for Duffy ... there were some encouraging moments. He recorded seven of his 11 outs on strikeouts, and he limited damage to two runs despite allowing six hits and two walks.
“I was able to battle through 32/3 (innings),” he said, “but that’s just not acceptable for a starting pitcher. I can make all of the excuses I want, but I won’t. I have to get better.
“It’s behind me now. I got my feet wet ... I’m not at all happy or pleased with my efficiency, but the team won. That’s all that matters at this point. I was part of a win. Next time, I’ll go deeper.”
When that next time will be remains uncertain. Yost said Duffy will start again but didn’t offer specifics, although the best bet is he will start a week from Friday in a doubleheader at Detroit.
“Electric stuff,” Yost said. “A little over-hyped (Wednesday) at times. He struggled with command, but it was a good first step for him. A lot of pitches. … When he got hurt, he was still learning how to harness his adrenaline.
“He was overthrowing at times. I mean, he lights up the gun. He’s a young guy. Once he learns how to harness that adrenaline, he’s going to be a really nice pitcher.”