In the midst of a postseason chase, the Royals placed starter Danny Duffy on the 10-day disabled list because of elbow soreness on Saturday afternoon. On the surface, it appeared to be a significant blow.
Yet Royals manager Ned Yost sought to defuse anxiety surrounding the situation, revealing that Duffy could miss just one start after sustaining what is medically known as “valgus extension overload.”
Duffy returned to Kansas City to undergo an MRI on Saturday as the Royals continued a three-game series against the Indians at Progressive Field. Rookie left-hander Eric Skoglund will start in Duffy’s place Sunday afternoon.
In a corresponding roster move, the club selected the contract of lefty Onelki Garcia to fill Duffy’s spot on the 25-man roster. To create room on the 40-man roster, the team put prospect Bubba Starling (oblique) on the 60-day disabled list.
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The Royals believe the structural integrity of Duffy's left elbow is fine. The official diagnosis is a left elbow impingement/valgus extension overload, club officials said. The issue occurs when the bones inside the elbow collide during the delivery of a fastball, causing soreness in the elbow and forearm.
For context, former Royals starter Yordano Ventura missed one start in 2014 after being diagnosed with “mild valgus extension overload.” Yost is hopeful Duffy could be back in the same time frame.
“We’re hoping that it’s just going to be 10 days and miss a start,” Yost said. “We’ll see.”
Duffy’s stint on the disabled list is retroactive to Aug. 23, meaning he would be eligible to return on Sept. 2. The Royals have a day off on Thursday before beginning a six-game road trip in Minnesota, which means that after Skoglund starts on Sunday, they would not need a fifth starter again until Sept. 5 in Detroit.
The Royals cannot afford to be without Duffy for long, of course. They entered Saturday at 64-63, 1 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the race for the second AL wild card. To contend for a third playoff spot in four years would likely require at least another 20 or 21 wins over their last 35 games.
Yost said Saturday that Duffy began feeling soreness after a start in Baltimore on July 31. He allowed one earned run in seven innings in a no-decision at Camden Yards as the Royals lost 2-1. Duffy battled through the issue for four straight starts. But the soreness manifested into some noticeable discomfort and tightness in his left forearm following his last start, a gem against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Duffy reported the soreness on Wednesday before attempting to play catch Friday in Cleveland.
“This time, it was a little more tight, a little more sore,” Yost said, before adding: “I’m hoping it’s not going to be two (missed starts). But whatever it is, his last four or five starts are going to be stronger than just trying to grind through it for the next six.”
Duffy, 28, has posted a 5.48 ERA in the month of August, allowing 14 earned runs in 23 innings while pitching through the soreness. Yet his peripheral numbers have remained solid. He’s struck out 31 while issuing just seven walks in his last four starts. He flirted with a no-hitter for nearly six innings in his last appearance, despite a pregame bullpen session that alarmed pitching coach Dave Eiland.
“We had Skoglund on red alert,” Yost said. “(Duffy) went down there and threw about 15 warmup pitches. Dave came back said: ‘We’ll see, but he’s not throwing very good.’ He went out and threw 6 innings of no-hit baseball.”
Duffy, who spent all of June on the disabled list because of an oblique strain, is 8-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 21 starts. He signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension last offseason after posting the best season of his career in 2016.
He also has a history of elbow problems. He underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2012 and missed 14 months, returning to a major-league mound in August 2013. For now, Yost said, the Royals are not concerned with the structural nature of Duffy’s elbow.
“It’s not in the tendon part,” Yost said. “It just got real stiff. He’s been dealing with it.”
With Duffy out, Garcia will slide into a long relief role. A 28-year-old lefty from Cuba, Garcia posted a 5.04 ERA while logging innings in a swingman role at Omaha.
This is his second stint in the major leagues. He appeared in three games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. The Royals signed him to a minor-league deal last October after he spent 2016 in the Mexican League.