Judging the Royals

Danny Duffy pitched like an ace Monday: How did he become the Royals’ most reliable starter?

Royals pitcher Danny Duffy allowed one hit and one walk in eight innings Monday, striking out 16.
Royals pitcher Danny Duffy allowed one hit and one walk in eight innings Monday, striking out 16. TNS

Danny Duffy struck out 16, flirted with a no-hitter and the Royals beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0 on Monday night. Duffy has become the Royals’ most reliable starting pitcher this season; he hasn’t lost a game since June 6 and he probably deserved to win that one.

So how did Danny Duffy go from being so inconsistent he was pulled from the starting rotation late in 2015 to being the Royals’ most consistent starter in 2016?

Danny Duffy spent some time in the bullpen.

Starters and relievers pitch differently

It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this, but just in case you arrived late to the party it’s worth mentioning again; starters pitch like marathoners, relievers pitch like sprinters.

Going to the bullpen simplified things for Duffy; come out blowing gas, throw your best stuff for one inning and see where it takes you.

Duffy had success with that philosophy in the pen, and when he was asked to start again Duffy said he was going to do the same thing: he would throw his best stuff as long as he could and see where it took him.

And that philosophy has taken Duffy a long way; a guy that started the season as a middle reliever is 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA.

So what has Danny Duffy changed?

OK, so once Duffy was back in the rotation he decided to continue his aggressive bullpen approach; what exactly does that mean?

Monday night’s game provides some answers.

Duffy simplified his approach: Whether it’s pitching out of the stretch or dropping his fourth pitch, Duffy is taking a simpler approach to being a starting pitcher. Some starters try to save pitches for the second or third trip through the order and that can backfire; if you hold back that nasty slider you might not make it through the order three times. Monday night Duffy threw all his pitches in the first inning — here’s my best stuff, let’s see you hit it.

Duffy threw his secondary pitches for strikes: Hitters want to hit fastballs, so much of the game centers around hitters trying to find hittable fastballs and pitchers trying to avoid throwing one. If a pitcher can’t throw his secondary pitches for strikes, hitters will gear up for the heater every time that pitcher is behind in the count. Duffy was throwing his changeup and breaking ball for strikes often enough to put doubt in the hitters’ minds; they had to worry about three pitches, not one.

Duffy threw first-pitch off-speed pitches: Pitchers want to get ahead in the count and the fastball is the easiest pitch to control, so hitters see a lot of first-pitch fastballs. That’s why the Royals like to swing at them; when they put the first pitch in play the Royals hit .376 and slug .597. Pitchers need to throw something off-speed on that first pitch every once in a while just to keep the hitters honest. Duffy threw a first-pitch changeup or breaking pitch nine times.

Duffy added and subtracted: Hitters are looking for fastballs and pitchers throw a lot of them. So when a pitcher throws a heater it’s a good idea to add or subtract velocity; that can upset a hitter’s timing — Duffy threw his fastball in the low 90s and as high as 96 mph Monday.

Duffy was on the attack: Danny faced 26 batters and threw strike one to 14 of them. 12 batters saw a first-pitch ball, but 11 of those batters then saw a second-pitch strike. Only one Tampa Bay batter found himself in a 2-0 count. Duffy only walked one batter.

Now he has to keep doing it

At some point every athlete fails and when they fail they sometimes question their approach. But often there was nothing wrong with the athlete’s approach, it just wasn’t well executed. Change your approach every time you fail and you’re going to be inconsistent.

Danny Duffy has found a successful approach and if he sticks with it, the Royals might have found themselves an ace.