Ned Yost does not issue ultimatums, or deliver messages through the press. But he came close when discussing the prognosis on struggling starter Danny Duffy, who allowed four runs in five innings to the Yankees on Saturday.
"We saw him some improvement last night," Yost said. "We’re going to have to see more improvement in his next start."
When Jeremy Guthrie stumbled through the season’s first month, Yost refused to waver in his support, despite Guthrie’s 6.52 ERA in April. Duffy (2-3, 5.87 ERA) presents a different case. The Royals still hold a minor-league option on him, and they need to create a vacancy in the starting rotation when Jason Vargas returns from the disabled list.
Vargas completed a bullpen session before Sunday’s game against the Yankees. He reported no lingering discomfort from the flexor strain in his left elbow. Yost does not believe Vargas will require a minor-league rehabilitation assignment. The Royals can activate him as early as Friday.
Saturday marks Duffy’s next turn in the rotation. Yost indicated he did not intend to juggle his rotation despite off days on Monday and Thursday. He could still alter this stance as the week progresses, of course. Duffy has given up 14 runs in his last three starts.
With Vargas returning, the team faces a rotation crunch. Chris Young (3-0, 0.94 ERA) has been their best pitcher through his three starts. Yost has not committed to Young as a full-time member of the starting staff.
So Duffy resides closer to jeopardy because he creates roster flexibility. The club could option him to Class AAA Omaha to regroup. Yost did indicate he saw signs of improvement on Saturday.
"He stayed within himself better last night," Yost said. "Before, he couldn’t command anything, because he was just rearing back and firing. He was over-throwing everything. He was over-throwing his breaking ball, his changeup. Spiking his fastball.
"Last night, he actually had pretty good command of his secondary pitches. His curveball and his changeup, he was actually staying within himself and executing the pitches. He just struggled with his fastball command. And it was more mechanical than it was over-throwing."
Yet the Royals desire more. They tabbed Duffy to be their No. 2 starter when this season began. His performance has cratered as the calendar turned to May. For a club with World Series aspirations, they can only tolerate so much.
"He’s got to be better," Yost said.