Royals pitcher Danny Duffy has now had two starts and has yet to give up a run. As a starter, he’s holding opponents to a batting average of .192 and slugging percentage of .231, so what’s not to like?
As long as Duffy’s pitching like this, the thinking goes, why not stretch him out to where he can throw 100 pitches and give you six or seven innings?
Things might not be quite that simple.
Duffy threw three innings in his first start and four and a third innings Saturday against the Chicago White Sox. And knowing he’s only going to be out there for a short while changes the way Duffy pitches.
If a pitcher knows his outing will be a short one, he can step on the gas and go. According to the website Fangraphs, Duffy’s average fastball velocity over his career is 93.7 mph. In 2016, it’s 96.1 mph ... and not long ago I saw him hit 99 on the gun.
Knowing he’s only going to pitch three or four innings allows Duffy to use his fastball more often; Fangraphs (and God bless the people who keep track of this stuff) also says Duffy has thrown his fastball 66.5 percent of the time over his career ... but in 2016 he’s throwing it 77.3 percent of the time.
Going through the other team’s lineup a couple times, as opposed to three or four, has also allowed Duffy to eliminate a couple pitches; he can get through an outing with a fastball, breaking ball and changeup. Eliminating pitches has helped Duffy avoid throwing his fourth- and fifth-best pitches.
Starters pitch differently than relievers, and right now Duffy is starting but pitching like a reliever.
If Duffy is asked to throw more pitches and more innings and make more trips through a batting order, is Duffy’s reliever approach sustainable? Or will he throw his fastball less often and with less velocity and have to add those fourth- and fifth-best pitches back into the mix?
On Saturday, Duffy’s fastball hit a high of 98 mph and a low of 93, and there were more 93 and 94 mph pitches toward the end of his outing than the beginning. It’s possible that Duffy was “adding and subtracting” velocity to affect the hitters’ timing, but it’s also possible he’s not going to be able to sustain a fastball in the upper 90s over longer outings.
As usual, I’ve got more questions than answers; but when Duffy pitches, keep an eye on that velocity.
Mike Moustakas and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
OK, for starters let me say that I really doubt Mike Moustakas considered Saturday a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
He was back playing in the big leagues with his friends and teammates, his team won a close game, and I’m guessing he was probably pretty happy about all that.
So it’s on me: I saw a chance to use a convenient headline and took it. Mea culpa, which is Latin for something like “My bad.” (That translation might be a touch off, but you get what I’m saying.)
Moustakas, back in the big leagues, struck out three times. But once he started getting his timing back, he finally put the ball in play and promptly lined out to White Sox shortstop Snidely Whiplash. (Let me stop here and say if you don’t get that joke you need to do two things: 1) Watch more Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons and 2) check out Tyler Saladino’s mustache.)
To top off the three strikeouts and lineout, Moustakas also got tagged with an error; but there were some extenuating circumstances there.
It happened in the seventh inning: the White Sox got two runners on to start the inning, and with the score 2-0 at that point, the Royals held a mound meeting. I’ll go out on a limb here and say the possibility of a sacrifice bunt might have been a topic of conversation.
The game resumed and Moustakas took a position on the grass, facing the pitcher. That positioning allows the third baseman to check the runner at second and still see home plate. If the ball is bunted to third, the third baseman charges in; if the ball is hit somewhere else, the third baseman retreats to cover the bag. The man at the plate, Adam Eaton, bunted and Moustakas charged in to field the ball. And that’s when things got loopy.
Moustakas fielded the ball in a position to throw to third base and cut down the lead runner; that would keep the tying run at first base. But there was a slight problem with that plan: nobody was covering third.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar was covering second, second baseman Whit Merrifield was running to cover first and Eric Hosmer (who had also played in for the bunt) was also retreating to cover first base.
If I’ve gotta guess what happened (and I don’t, but I will anyway), Escobar should have been covering third base. On that play, the out is at third base to get the lead runner or at first base to get the guy who bunted the ball. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a third baseman go to second base for an out in that situation. If it has happened, it hasn’t happened a lot.
But the error is still on Moustakas; he lifted his head too soon to see what was happening at third, and the bunted ball hit the heel of his glove and came out.
Welcome back to the big leagues, Mike.
If you’re going to scuffle, don’t do it in April
The first-place White Sox have lost eight of their last 10 games. I might have mentioned this before (like every couple days), but even good teams and good players go through slumps. In a 162-game season, it’s hard not to.
But if you’re going to scuffle, and at some point you are, don’t do it in April.
If you scuffle early on, it’s very noticeable; you haven’t built up a cushion of good play that helps hide the fact that you’re not playing well right now. Scuffle in April and you’ll hear questions about your career (maybe you’ve lost it) or your team’s future (looks like they’re not going to the playoffs this year).
Play well in April and then scuffle in May, and people might not notice.