Danny Duffy felt his legs fail him in the second inning. A tiresome, stressful first had sapped him of his energy in a 9-9 tie to the Athletics.
“You get in trouble, you gas up,” Duffy said. “I got into a lot of trouble today, so I did that a lot.”
Duffy could not use velocity alone to escape his outing. Unable to compose himself, he yielded five runs in two innings. His stumble came two days after Yordano Ventura, his chief competition for the last spot in the Royals’ rotation, dominated hitters from this same Oakland club.
Duffy demonstrated a 65-pitch exhibition of his flaws: He failed to finish at-bats. He was inefficient. He lost his command and walked in a run in the first. He surrendered a three-run homer to Oakland catcher Derek Norris in the second. Norris crushed a 93-mph fastball.
Manager Ned Yost commended Duffy for his ability to hold runners and the sharpness of his breaking ball. But the results were still discouraging.
“I thought he was real inconsistent,” Yost said. “I thought he was fighting himself.”
Opening Day is 17 days away. Duffy probably will have only two more opportunities to prove himself in the Cactus League. His ERA is 11.00 this spring. Ventura’s ERA is 2.89.
Duffy is not blind. He can sense Ventura’s ascendance – he referred to him as a future star, and predicted Ventura wins 15 games in 2014.
“I’m very aware” of Ventura’s output, Duffy said. “And he deserves it. He’s doing an absolutely outstanding job. He’s killing it right now. And I’m pulling for him.”
Both Yost and general manager Dayton Moore have said they prefer Duffy to stretch out in the minors. But Yost has refused to rule him out as an option for the seventh and final spot in the bullpen. Yost indicated he decided on six relievers but declined to reveal their names.
“I will say this,” Yost said. He then embarked on a soliloquy that mentioned six relievers: Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Louis Coleman.
Holland and Davis are locks. Yost expressed his contentment with the development of Collins, Crow and Herrera, three pitchers who “needed to make adjustments when they came into camp” and have done so. Each has made strides calming down their deliveries and throwing strikes.
Next he ventured into more interesting territory. He referred to Coleman as a “proven performer,” which passes for an endorsement. Coleman shuttled between Class AAA Omaha and the majors in 2013 but only allowed two earned runs in 29 2/3 big-league innings.
That leaves one open spot. Yost does not appear interested in carrying a long reliever. P.J. Walters combusted on Thursday afternoon, and Everett Teaford was reassigned to minor-league camp on Friday morning. A second lefty, like Francisley Bueno or Donnie Joseph, also has appeal.
Then there is Duffy. Some in the organization worry how he would handle a bullpen assignment. His arsenal can be outstanding. But the short bursts could compound his current issues as a starter.
Duffy understands the stakes of the coming weeks. The uncertainty will hang over him, he said, until spring training ends.
“I could be doing one of four things in two different places,” he said. “I know what my game is. I know what I have to offer.”