Still positioned to starting Opening Day, Danny Duffy passes another test in return to Royals

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy throws in the fourth inning during Friday's spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, Arizona.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy throws in the fourth inning during Friday's spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, Arizona.

. As he entered the visitors clubhouse after his first Cactus League start in more than two weeks, Danny Duffy plopped down on a stool and began to untie his shoes.

He had allowed three earned runs in six innings in the Royals’ 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners. He finished his day with a short bullpen session to elevate his pitch count beyond the 86 he threw in the game. He peeled off his shoes one by one and deemed the performance a success.

"This might be my first quality start in spring training ever," Duffy said. "So I’m excited about that."

Duffy returned to camp on Friday after helping the United States win gold at the World Baseball Classic. He is days away from being officially named the Royals’ Opening Day starter, though manager Ned Yost has yet to confirm the assignment. The announcement is expected this weekend, perhaps either Saturday or Sunday. But first, the Royals wanted to evaluate Duffy up close after he allowed one earned run in eight innings across two starts at the World Baseball Classic.

After six innings, he passed the test.

"Everything clicked in the fourth, fifth and sixth," Duffy said.

USA teammates Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy on winning WBC

The final line was not without flaws. Duffy yielded three runs in the bottom of the third, surrendering a booming double to Mitch Haniger and a two-run homer to Kyle Seager. Both hits came as Duffy experimented with a two-seam fastball.

"I’m just trying to throw a couple of those every game," Duffy said.

Duffy was attempting to start his two-seamer inside and let it run back over the corner. Both pitches were left up and over the middle of the plate.

"I wanted to start it off the plate and bring it back," Duffy said. "I don’t do that very often. I just wanted to work on certain things that I might utilize during the season. And we worked on them for sure, but they didn’t do what I wanted them to do.”

As the outing continued, Duffy settled back in and finished with four strikeouts. He is scheduled to throw close to 65 pitches in his final spring tuneup on Wednesday before facing the Minnesota Twins on April 3. For one day, he was happy to take another step toward the regular season.

"I’m very pleased with the results," Duffy said.

The Arms

The Royals have shown little concern over the spring performance of reliever Kelvin Herrera, a two-time All-Star who will take over the closer’s job this season. It’s spring, after all.

Herrera, though, allowed another run on Friday after replacing Duffy in the seventh inning. This one was unearned. Herrera allowed a leadoff single before another runner reached base following a throwing error from Humberto Arteaga. The run scored when Guillermo Heredia delivered a single through the hole at shortstop. Herrera has posted a 3.86 ERA, allowing 10 hits in seven appearances this spring.

After Herrera departed, Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm combined to throw a scoreless eighth inning.

The regular guys

Jorge Soler, who served as the DH on Friday, continues to look more comfortable at the plate. He hit a two-run homer off Emilio Pagan in the ninth inning on Friday. That came three days after he hit his first homer of the spring against the Diamondbacks in Scottsdale.

Soler has also homered twice in minor-league games after spending part of the last week at minor-league camp, hoping to find his timing with extra at-bats. He finished 1 for 4 on Friday with two strikeouts.

Left fielder Alex Gordon began the day in the leadoff spot and finished 2 for 3. He’s now batting .375 this spring. Paulo Orlando added two hits while starting in right field.

The young guys

Raul Mondesi started at second base and finished 0 for 2. Peter O’Brien replaced Paulo Orlando in right field and went hitless in two at-bats.