On the mound, Danny Duffy can ignore the theoretical guillotine hanging over his season. Yet away from the diamond, as he ponders his recent string of success and the subsequent accumulation of innings, he cannot quell his worry. Less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Duffy fears a team-imposed shutdown to protect his arm.
“If I’m healthy, they’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands,” Duffy said a day before squaring off against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. “Because I’m finally feeling like I’ve got my feet under me.”
Perhaps he does not need to fret. Asked about the situation on Monday, multiple Royals officials denied the existence of an innings restriction for Duffy (4-6, 2.80 ERA), a 25-year-old left-hander. The team will monitor his condition as the season continues and “just go start to start and month to month and see where he is,” general manager Dayton Moore said.
When the Royals auditioned Duffy for the bullpen in March, Moore told two reporters from The Star, on separate occasions, that he projected Duffy would throw only 150 innings in 2014. Around that same time, Duffy told The Star, “I know I’m going to have a limit this year.”
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Duffy has thrown 67 innings between the majors and Class AAA Omaha this season. He is averaging 5.8 innings per start, has cruised through seven frames in his last two appearances and is on pace to cross that 150-inning threshold in the middle of September.
But to hear team officials tell it, his innings will not be an issue. Reminded of his earlier remarks on Monday, Moore replied, “I don’t know why I said that.” He framed his comments as a prediction rather than a fiat.
“Obviously, the more innings a guy throws, the more conscious you are of health,” Moore said. “But we wouldn’t just put some type of number out there. … You’ve got to listen to the player. Listen to the medical team. And evaluate the performance.”
Duffy has offered little signs of distress thus far. He complained of arm fatigue on May 28 and saw his fastball velocity dip into the 80s. But he blasted through the period of dead arm. In his next four starts, he allowed only five earned runs in 252/3 innings and saw his fastball blaze in the upper 90s.
The team has been judicious with Duffy’s pitch counts. In nine starts, he has reached 100 pitches just twice and has never exceeded 101. Duffy credited an improved two-seam fastball and faith in his defense as the reasons for his efficiency.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland also indicated he had yet to hear any discussion of an innings limit. Informed that Duffy thought he might get shut down, Eiland began to laugh.
“Well, whatever he’s thinking, he needs to continue to think it,” Eiland said. “And don’t put anything else in his head.”
During the summer of 2012, the Washington Nationals ignited an industrywide discussion of this concept. The team shut down Stephen Strasburg, who had undergone Tommy John surgery in 2010, after 1591/3 innings. He did not pitch after Sept. 7. Strasburg watched from the dugout as the Nationals, a 97-game winner, crashed out in the National League Division Series. Some players on that club still lament their organization’s decision.
“A lot of people don’t realize you might only get one shot,” outfielder Michael Morse, now with the Giants, told USA Today earlier this year. “One shot. That could have been the only shot. I just wish we could have given it everything we had, but we didn’t.”
The situation is not far from Duffy’s mind.
“I don’t want to have that feeling that Stephen Strasburg had,” Duffy said. “And not that I’m as important to this team as he is to his. But I know that I’m needed. So hopefully we can figure out a way around that.”
Duffy spoke before taking the field with his teammates to warm up. A few hours later, a reporter informed him the team insisted they had no intention of restricting him. Duffy beamed. He debuted in the majors in 2011 but has pitched in September only four times. He plans to contribute much more this season.
“That’s huge,” he said. “That’s a weight off my mind.”