Royals

Danny Duffy sets tone as Royals sweep Twins with eighth straight victory

Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy tipped his hat to the crowd as he was relieved in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy tipped his hat to the crowd as he was relieved in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the last month, as the left arm of Danny Duffy has left a path of destruction in the American League and helped propel his team back into the playoff race, the 27-year-old starting pitcher has been called many things.

He has been labeled dominant and electric and efficient and effective. His first baseman has taken to calling him an ace. The rest of his teammates use a simple moniker: “Duff.”

But late Sunday afternoon, in the moments after the Royals edged the Minnesota Twins 2-1 at Kauffman Stadium, pushing their winning streak to eight games, Duffy had his own word in mind:

“I was just kind of the generic pitcher out there, doing what I had to do,” Duffy said.

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The description, perhaps, undersold what Duffy produced on Sunday. In 6  2/3 innings against the Twins, he allowed just one earned run, lowering his ERA from 2.73 to 2.66. In his 19th start this season, he improved to 11-1 and won his 10th straight decision, just one shy of a franchise record.

But Duffy had his own explanation. For once, his stuff was not dominant. His fastball command was erratic. He worked around a bases-loaded jam in the second inning. He scattered eight hits across the afternoon and maneuvered around “ a lot of traffic,” he said.

And in the end, this still did not matter. As the Royals completed a four-game sweep over the Twins, Duffy offered the latest sign of his arrival. Even on days where his stuff comes and goes, he can still silence an opponent.

Royals manager Ned Yost discusses Danny Duffy, eight-game winning streak

“That’s why he’s the best,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “He didn’t have his best stuff. but he was still grinding through it. When you see a guy not have his best stuff but still battle and grind, it picks you up.”

On Sunday, another splendid starting performance paved the way for the latest victory in a furious run that has put the American League on high alert. The Royals have won 13 of 15, the club’s starting pitching has posted a 2.78 ERA in August, and the bullpen has thrown 29 straight scoreless innings — and, yes, there is still an insect called “Rally Mantis Jr.” living in a plastic cage inside the clubhouse. And this is where we are.

It is late August, and the Royals are entering an off-day on Monday before beginning a road trip to Miami and Boston. And the defending World Series champions are not ready to abdicate the throne just yet.

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“It’s what they do,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “They grind and they play defense and they pitch.”

By late Sunday afternoon, the Royals sat just 3  1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot with 38 games to play. After a year of volatile runs — after an eight-game skid in early June and a 7-19 record in July — the team has become a raging inferno, a season-saving month appearing out of nowhere.

Inside the clubhouse, the Royals’ coaches joke that the team is so close-knit that they get hot together … and then slump together. The premise is unquantifiable, of course, and maybe it’s just a good line. But perhaps there is something to the bizarre nature of this 2016 Royals team.

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“I can’t explain it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You just ride it. It’s funny, when they get cold, they get cold together, too. We joke about it, but it’s true.

“When we’re playing like we are right now, everyone’s relaxed and loose and going up and having great at-bats. Everybody’s just, quite frankly, doing their job.”

On Sunday, that meant the following formula: Hosmer finished 2 for 2 with a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth inning against Twins starter Ervin Santana. Lorenzo Cain tallied two hits and scored the decisive run from first base on Hosmer’s double. For Duffy and the Royals’ bullpen, it was just enough offense.

The Royals opened the scoring in the bottom of the second after Hosmer started the inning with a single and designated hitter Kendrys Morales deposited a double into left field. Left fielder Alex Gordon, who entered with five homers in his last five games, followed by striking out. But shortstop Alcides Escobar came through with an RBI ground-out.

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That run would be important. Duffy wobbled for a moment in the top of the second, loading the bases with nobody out. The inning began with a double from first baseman Trevor Plouffe and an infield single from Jorge Polanco. Duffy exacerbated the problem with a four-pitch walk to Eduardo Escobar.

With little room to maneuver, Duffy responded by striking out Eddie Rosario on five pitches. And then the Royals’ defense took over. Gordon made a sliding catch on a tricky fly ball into shallow left field. Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert ranged to his left and ended the inning on a 5-4 force-out at second base.

“It was big, but it wasn’t as big as it might have seemed,” Duffy said. “I always have the confidence to get it done.”

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Duffy finished with four strikeouts and two walks, working into the seventh. The defense and the bullpen secured the game from there. Cain snuffed out a potential rally with a diving catch in right-center. Second baseman Raul Mondesi recorded another delicate grab on a shallow fly ball in right field.

“When you don’t have your best stuff, you just battle,” Duffy said. “That was kind of how I felt today. Just get through as many outs as you can and let your defense play behind you. And goodness, didn’t they? They killed it out there.”

By the end, reliever Joakim Soria had recorded his eighth straight scoreless appearance in the eighth inning. Kelvin Herrera notched his seventh save in the ninth. A bullpen without Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar locked down an opponent for another day.

But on Sunday, the story began with Duffy. In July, he tossed his team a lifeline, pitching in five of their seven victories that month. In August, he has continued to show up every fifth day, the ace of a staff that has thrust Kansas City back above .500.

And here is the result: Just 16 days earlier, the Royals sat at 51-58 and their World Series title defense appeared categorically dead. The next day, Duffy shut down the Toronto Blue Jays in a 4-2 victory. Now? So much seems possible.

“We just continue to come in here every day and just try to take care of business,” Hosmer said. “We aren’t thinking about how much time is left, or where we are in the standings. We just come in and get our work done and we’ll see how far that takes us.”

Royals 2, Twins 1

Minnesota

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Dozier 2b

4

0

1

0

0

0

.266

Grossman lf

4

1

2

0

0

0

.263

Sano dh

4

0

0

0

0

1

.241

Plouffe 1b

4

0

2

1

0

0

.255

Polanco ss

4

0

1

0

0

0

.304

E.Escobar 3b

2

0

1

0

2

0

.265

Rosario cf

4

0

0

0

0

3

.270

Suzuki c

3

0

1

0

0

0

.283

Mauer ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.276

D.Santana rf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.243

Kepler ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.253

Totals

34

1

8

1

2

5

 

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Dyson cf

4

0

0

0

0

1

.245

Cuthbert 3b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.293

Cain rf

3

1

2

0

0

0

.292

Hosmer 1b

2

1

2

1

1

0

.277

Morales dh

3

0

1

0

0

1

.245

Gordon lf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.225

A.Escobar ss

3

0

0

1

0

1

.259

Butera c

3

0

0

0

0

2

.264

Mondesi 2b

3

0

0

0

0

3

.203

Totals

28

2

5

2

1

11

 

Minnesota

001

000

000

1

8

0

Kansas City

010

001

00x

2

5

1

E: Duffy (2). LOB: Minnesota 8, Kansas City 3. 2B: Grossman (15), Plouffe 2 (13), Cain (18), Hosmer (23), Morales (18). RBIs: Plouffe (33), Hosmer (73), A.Escobar (35). DP: Minnesota 1, Kansas City 1.

Minnesota

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

E.Santana L, 6-10

7

5

2

2

1

10

3.39

Kintzler

1

0

0

0

0

1

1.77

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Duffy W, 11-1

6.2

8

1

1

2

4

2.66

Moylan

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

3.52

Soria

1

0

0

0

0

0

3.88

Herrera S, 7

1

0

0

0

0

1

1.94

Inherited runners-scored: Moylan 1-0. Holds: Moylan (5), Soria (15). WP: E.Santana. Umpires: Home, Bill Miller; First, Todd Tichenor; Second, Brian Knight; Third, Stu Scheurwater. Time: 2:25. Att: 32,996.

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