Albert Pujols’ homer tarnishes Danny Duffy’s 2019 debut; Angels top Royals

The two-time Opening Day starter stepped onto a major-league pitching mound on Friday for the first time in 2019, 30 days after the Royals began their season. Over the next five months, Danny Duffy will be asked to stabilize — or at least boost — a rotation whose earned run average has hovered above 5 throughout April.

But that boost didn’t come Friday. Not from Duffy. And certainly not from the lineup.

In his initial turn in this year’s rotation, Duffy lasted five innings in the Royals’ 5-1 loss Friday to the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium.

Duffy threw 86 pitches from the left shoulder that tightened up in spring training, one of those offerings re-directed 430 feet off the bat of Albert Pujols for a first-inning two-run homer. Already, that was more than the Royals could muster.

“I’d like to have better location on just about everything outside of my slider, but that’s part of it,” Duffy said, later adding that catcher Martin Maldonado “called a great game. I just didn’t pitch to it very well with location. But that will come back. I was really pleased with my effort, but I obviously wasn’t pleased with the result.”

In a matchup of southpaws, the man residing in the other dugout assumed control of the mound. Angels starter Tyler Skaggs pitched into the sixth. He was credited with five innings, six baserunners and five strikeouts to pick up the victory. Skaggs (2-2) has allowed one earned run across 26 career innings in Kansas City.

The Royals (8-18) opened a seven-game homestand with their sixth loss in seven games.

Duffy (0-1) joined the trend, though he settled in after the Pujols homer. The fastball was sitting at 92-93 mph throughout the outing. He said he touched 95 in his only rehab start last weekend with Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He described his arsenal during that game as effectively wild. The stuff was there, he explained, but the location would require tampering to consistently engage with major league hitters.

He missed location once early. And it bit him.

Pujols was the culprit. Who else? No longer the hitter he once was, to be sure, but Pujols has enjoyed Kauffman Stadium like few other venues. Duffy left a change-up over the plate in the first, and Pujols lined a two-run shot that surpassed the left-field fence before he was halfway to first base. It traveled 109.5 mph off the bat, according to Statcast.

“We tried to go down and away, and it just stayed middle,” Duffy said. “To a great hitter, you can’t do that. One of the best hitters ever, you can’t do that.”

Pujols, a Fort Osage graduate, has 25 career home runs in his former hometown at Kauffman Stadium, which welcomed a crowd of 23,186. That’s the most of any stadium not occupied by a division foe during his tenure with the Angels or Cardinals. He has driven in 1,995 runs in his career, one shy of Barry Bonds, who is fifth on the MLB career list.

Duffy allowed two hits over the ensuing four innings. His final line: five innings, five hits, three earned runs, three walks, one strikeout.

“I was encouraged. I thought he threw the ball pretty well for his first time out,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Command was just a tick off the first two innings but settled in after that.”

Ryan O’Hearn had an opportunity to punch the Royals back into the game — or perhaps provide a lead — when he approached the plate with the bases loaded in the fourth. The deficit was just 2-0. But he swung through a full-count fastball that hung over the plate.

An hour before first pitch Friday, the Royals placed first baseman Lucas Duda on the 10-day injured list and recalled third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez from Class AAA Omaha. Duda has a lumbar strain. The move is retroactive to Wednesday. Gutierrez, acquired from the Washington Nationals in a trade featuring Kelvin Herrera as the centerpiece, was hitting .333 (22 for 66) with two home runs during an 18-game stint with Omaha.

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