“Arrived” is a delicate term in baseball, because it suggests a certain sense of permanence in a world of constant flux.
It’s an especially fragile assertion to make if the history of the apparent arrivee has been as erratic as it has been with Danny Duffy — and a tinge of a reminder of that uneven past resurfaced against Detroit on Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium.
But even after Duffy surrendered three runs in five innings in what became a 10-4 Royals’ loss to the Tigers, believe this:
The essence of a profound change in him — and a pivotal one for the team — remains intact.
“This is a very simple game that we sometimes can make very complicated,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said before the game, “and he’s finally gotten to the point where he understands who he is:
“ ‘I’m coming at you … Let’s go.’ ”
That doesn’t mean perfection, naturally, and it doesn’t assure what’s to come.
Nor did it resound Thursday as it had in his previous six starts, in which Duffy had given up 10 runs in 31 innings for a 2.90 ERA while striking out 38 and walking just five.
Wobbly as Duffy was in surrendering three home runs in five innings, though, he grinded through the fifth inning after a combustible fourth in which he gave up two home runs.
“We’ll take that with our bullpen,” manager Ned Yost said.
Duffy left the game with a lead after Brett Eibner’s first career home run and thus stood to be the winning pitcher before Luke Hochevar was drubbed for three runs in the seventh inning.
And Duffy sustained a claim to being the Royals most reliable starter in the five weeks since he was liberated from the bullpen by the happenstance of injuries to Chris Young and Kris Medlen.
If his resurgence hasn’t necessarily changed the complexion of a volatile starting rotation, well, it has anchored and reset it and changed the tone of its work — with the current trend serving as a particular case in point.
From Duffy’s six scoreless innings (with 10 strikeouts) Saturday in Chicago through Thursday night, the Royals rotation has allowed 10 runs in 35 2/3 innings for perhaps its best full week of work of the season.
Asked how much Duffy has helped, Yost anticipated the final word of the question and said, “Stabilize?”
Very effectively, Yost added, noting that in each of his starts Duffy has done the ultimate job: leaving the Royals with a strong chance to win.
Despite the final score, he did that again Thursday.
That’s a vital link in the formula for any team and especially the Royals.
And with so much uncertainty in the rotation in the first half of the season, it looms as the single biggest variable in their hopes of returning to the playoffs.
With the bullpen stellar enough that the team is 28-1 when the team leads after seven innings and 32-1 after eight, the ultimate trick is establishing the lead … no matter how much the Royals have a penchant for the comeback win (13 this season).
Ask Eiland about the difference in Duffy, and he can point you to numerous ways in which he has grown through pruning from his time in the bullpen.
He’s simplified everything, from starting out of the stretch to refining his array of breaking pitches.
“I took away his curveball and slider and we just got him a harder breaking ball,” Eiland said. “For me, his curveball wasn’t a competitive pitch. I told him, ‘Let’s just put that in your back pocket for now. Why do you want to throw another (breaking ball) that’s not nearly as good and you may get hurt with? Just so you can tell people you’ve got two breaking balls?’ ”
Maybe more to the point, though, Duffy has taken the mind-set he had in the bullpen to the rotation.
He holds back nothing now, and doubts and anxieties generally have been replaced by … “I’m coming at you … Let’s go.”
“It’s just one inning at a time, go out and win this inning. Don’t worry about next inning, don’t worry about the next time through the order, don’t worry about the second time you face the guy, don’t worry about ‘saving’ anything,” Eiland said. “One pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, win this inning.”
This economy of movement and focus, Eiland said, has informed Duffy’s enhanced control a year after his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 102-53. It’s 63-12 this season.
“We’re not sitting here saying, ‘Strike out more, walk less,’ ” Eiland said. “That’s just a product of, ‘I’m coming at you, and I’m going to attack.’ ”
That’s who Duffy is, or at least who he is at his best, which included being one of the best left-handed starters in the American League in 2014 until he was injured.
Now it’s up to him — and Eiland — to find a way to refine and reinforce that as he sits at the verge of another breakthrough … though free to fall back again as a turbulent past with injuries and lapses might yet beckon.
“ ‘Keep it simple,’ ” Eiland tells Duffy, “ ‘and trust the stuff you have.’ ”
Afterward, Duffy at once accepted responsibility for the loss — “I had to be better for my team tonight,” he said, adding that he “hung the bullpen out to dry” — and seemed unfazed.
Asked if he had to be almost perfect against such a powerful lineup, Duffy said, “I don’t think with my stuff I have to be any better than I normally am.”
Time will tell if his stuff, and emotional command of how to use it, is here to stay.
But if he truly understands who he is the way Eiland believes he does, that will all arrive with it.