When starting pitcher Danny Duffy stepped off the mound at Globe Life Park on Thursday night, no coolers needed to be upended. Gloves didn't need to be thrown into dugout walls.
No, Thursday was different. For the first time in weeks, Duffy’s outing didn’t necessitate a self-defeating post-game interview.
Because when he returned to his team's dugout, Duffy was able to smile like he hadn’t after an outing in weeks. He had bucked his recent struggles, received applause and high-fives instead of comforting pats on the shoulder and logged 7 2/3 innings in the Royals' 8-2 win over the Rangers.
Duffy scattered four hits, allowed two walks and one run and struck out five batters in his longest outing yet. He carried a shutout through seven innings before Rougned Odor hit an RBI single in the eighth.
“It was nice to do something beneficial for the team,” said Duffy, whose record improved to 2-6. “I just had fun out there and just kind of used what got me here.”
Later, he raised his hands to the ceiling in visiting clubhouse after the cameras turned away and said, "I didn't cuss. I didn't cuss!"
It was no small feat. The frustration of a lackluster start to his eighth major-league season had gotten to him five nights ago in Kauffman Stadium, where he admitted he was “sick of this (crap)” after yielding five runs in four innings in a loss to the Yankees. He’d allowed 30 earned runs over a span of six starts and averaged five innings a game. He’d seen his ERA soar to 6.81, the highest among baseball’s qualified starters entering Thursday.
Duffy wasn’t used to those results. He’d long prided himself on longevity and effectiveness; both things eluded him.
“He was down and away, threw a little more fastballs, didn’t miss too much in the middle of the plate,” catcher Salvador Perez said. “He did a tremendous job.”
After allowing Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo to reach base to start the first inning, Duffy retired 19 of the next 21 batters he faced. He worked back from 3-0 counts to strike out both Hanser Alberto and Nomar Mazara along the way. He induced a double play to keep the Rangers away from third base for the seventh inning in a row.
And maybe most important of all: He tossed his slider, the pitch that has hurt him the most this season, with the precision he’d been lacking. It was called for strikes six times and whiffed at once; and although he felt surer of his fastball on Thursday, he was able get seven outs in the field with his breaking pitch.
“I think I just got behind the ball better,” Duffy said. “I threw everything from the same slot I’ve been throwing it, I just drove it down, whereas the last few starts I was just laying it in there. … I just wasn’t throwing it as hard as I did today. That’s all it took.”
There's no team Duffy dominated more last season than the Rangers. He allowed one run in 15 2/3 innings pitched for an 0.57 ERA.
The last time he faced the Rangers, Duffy came two outs shy of a complete game: He had thrown eight shutout innings, then surrendered the only run of the game in the ninth inning for the loss at Kauffman Stadium on July 15.
Perhaps the comfort of those numbers was all Duffy needed to regain confidence in himself. Or maybe he just needed to look inward so he could finally “do what go me here.”
It helped that the offense provided him a two-run cushion with Ramon Torres’ Little League homer in the second inning. (Torres singled and came all the way home on an error.) And that Perez drove in four runs while Whit Merrifield got on base three times and smoked a two-run double in the eighth. Torres and Ryan Goins, too, each scored twice and had two hits.
At any rate, Thursday’s outing was exactly the one Duffy needed to separate himself from the cluster of his first 10 starts. His ERA dropped more than a half-run to 6.14.
And the Royals benefited, winning three games in a row for the first time this season.
“Hopefully we build on this, learn from our success today and keep on riding,” Duffy said.
Perez does it all: In his return behind the plate following a start at first base in Wednesday’s series finale in St. Louis, Salvador Perez dazzled. He threw out a pair of baserunners, including one on Duffy’s strikeout of Mazara in the fourth.
The first runner was thrown out after Shin-Soo Choo took a pitch in the dirt off his face in the first inning. The ball ricocheted to hit Choo in the nose before Perez grabbed it to throw out Delino DeShields at second base.
“Body, maybe, but in the face? First time. Kinda of funny,” Perez said. “I’m like, ‘bro, I think you’re bleeding.’”
Gordon’s status: Alex Gordon was a late scratch from the lineup. A diving play he made in St. Louis on Wednesday left his hip sore and his neck stiff. Merrifield made his second career start at center field while Jon Jay played in left in Gordon’s stead.
Up next: The Royals, who improved to 17-33, will continue this four-game series on Friday at 7:05 p.m.