The conversation will last 10 minutes, and Danny Duffy will insult his pitching at least a dozen times in a dozen different ways. He is the Royals' most talented starting pitcher, owner of a $65 million contract, and right now his results stink. He will use stronger language than that and will pound his left fist on his chest for emphasis when he says it's killing him inside.
This is Duffy, pure and raw and honest, the only way he knows to be, even as he knows it's doing him no good.
You've often heard athletes described as "hyper-competitive." Duffy is that, sure, but more to the point right now, he is also hyper-accountable. He is emotional and a perfectionist and a people pleaser. These can all be good traits for a human, and sometimes even for a baseball player, but it's a wicked combination for a struggling baseball player, and right now, Duffy might be the worst pitcher in the big leagues.
Judge against expectation or salary, and he is definitely the worst pitcher in the big leagues. This type of failure is deeply personal to him. He takes on so much. He's a giver. You wonder who a guy like that leans on when it goes dark.
"My teammates, man," he says. "Can't tell you how many times I've apologized to my team for completely taking us out of a game this year, man. It's rough. They all keep saying, 'Look, your stuff's nasty, you're good.' But it's obviously not nasty enough, because I'm getting destroyed pretty much every time out.
"So I lean on my teammates."
That answer is quintessentially Duffy. The question was about his support group, about who lifts him when he needs it. He answered honestly — he's among the most popular guys in the clubhouse — but spent most of the answer describing himself apologizing.
This is the Duffy riddle. Because he is too good for this. His fastball sat at 95 mph on Sunday in Cleveland, his slider sharp enough, and yet fully half of the balls hit against him were judged as hard contact by FanGraphs. He walked five, hit one, threw a wild pitch and gave up two homers in 3 1/3 innings. He threw a cooler in the dugout. First time he can remember doing that.
That's the worst start of his career, but lately, not much of an outlier. He's given up 25 runs in his five starts. His 6.51 ERA, 35 runs, 12 homers, 56 hits and 78 baserunners surrendered each rank last or next-to-last in all of baseball among qualified pitchers.
"I hear that 'Nobody's harder on themselves than you are,'" Duffy says. "And that's true. I've just always been built that way. Always been really hard on myself when I suck. And I suck right now. No ifs, ands or buts. Hopefully we'll get it on track, because I'm fighting it hard right now."
He pounds his chest again when he says that, and this is all armchair psychology, but you can start to wonder whether — in this blink of history, at least — he'd be a little better off if he cared a little less.
If you know Duffy a little, and think about the contract, his sense of duty to the Royals, the team's rotten record, the arrest for DUI last summer and a probation requirement for regular drug and alcohol tests, you can't help but wonder whether the apologies and hyper-accountability that make him so genuine are also making him a worse pitcher right now.
The contract, because he's trying to earn it with every pitch.
The team's record, because he's trying to change it with every start.
The arrest, because he feels like he let so many down.
Royals manager Ned Yost sees that, anyway. Ask whether part of Duffy's struggles come from putting too much pressure on himself.
"Well, probably," Yost says. "He takes a lot of pride in holding up his end, and when he doesn't do it, like he's done here lately, he puts a lot of pressure on himself."
He's healthy, he says. His pitches feel good leaving his hand, he says. He's just missing his location too often and missing up in the zone way too often, and sometimes it feels as if every barrel in the stadium is crushing every pitch.
He's tried going to the windup, thinking he was tipping pitches, but that didn't work, so he switched back, and now the results are even worse. He hears it, too.
"I could flat out say, 'I'm awful right now, I don't have any excuses,' and people will still be like, 'No excuses, talk is cheap,'" Duffy says.
He may have been referencing an exchange on Twitter in which a fan responded to Duffy being hard on himself by telling him to stop making excuses. That exchange was nearly two weeks ago.
There are few athletes who have built up more goodwill among fans and around the city than Duffy has. He's active with giving, responsive with fans, the kind of man for whom it seems genuinely important to make someone else's day better. Eric Hosmer called Duffy the best teammate he ever had.
But mention this to him — that he has a lot of folks pulling for him because of how he treats people — and it becomes another chance to put himself on blast.
"That's why it kills me so much, because I know people want to see it, you know?" he said. "I try to be as honest and frank with everyone that I can. Everything that happened with me in August, with the DUI incident, taught me the truth doesn't change. And when you don't run from the truth, you're going to be able to sleep at night. And I'm sleeping just fine. When I'm awake, that's when I'm stressing. So I try to be truthful, man. I try to be honest.
"My point is, I'm busting my ass. Busting my ass. As much as it kills people to see me struggle, see us struggle, it's eating at me right now. Because I'll never get these pitches back. I see it from that perspective. This is a small window you're here, man. I know how important my performance is to this team. I know how much they're relying on me, and I'm just not coming through right now. But I will."
Hard to imagine him doing that if he refuses to give himself a break at some point. Duffy does have a few escapes. Two loving parents. Good friends. Sadie, his Alaskan malamute. Lately, he's also had "Impractical Jokers."
Like a lot of ballplayers, Duffy is militant about leaving baseball at the ballpark, as best he can. If there is extra work to be done, fine, just go early or stay late. But once you're home, you're home, so that means once he's on the couch, he's skipping the app on his iPad that will show him video of himself pitching in favor of a hidden camera TV series in which four friends try to embarrass each other.
The other day, after the horror show in Cleveland, Duffy watched four hours. He needed a laugh.
Did it work?
He shrugs his shoulders.
"Temporarily," he says.