Vahe Gregorian

Royals need more starts like Danny Duffy provided against Seattle Mariners

Royals starter Danny Duffy was relieved in the seventh inning during Thursday's game against the Seattle Mariners. Duffy had seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings and allowed two runs.
Royals starter Danny Duffy was relieved in the seventh inning during Thursday's game against the Seattle Mariners. Duffy had seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Kris Medlen is stranded in “no-throw” limbo because of his ailing shoulder, Royals manager Ned Yost announced Thursday.

And that officially pushed back the best near-term option to spackle in some help for the looming undoing of the Royals: a volatile starting rotation that stresses a streaky offense that began Thursday last in the American League in run production.

The combination has meant that they basically haven’t been able to depend on being in a game after five innings beyond the starts of Ian Kennedy (usually) and the revived Danny Duffy, who was sterling again on Thursday to give the Royals a chance at Sal Perez’s walk-off double in a 4-3 win over Seattle.

And no one knows their plight better than they do, an issue that hovers even after an energizing victory.

“An area of vulnerability,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said before the game at Kauffman Stadium.

So it’s an area they are striving to address.

“We’re evaluating the landscape of who perhaps will be available,” Moore said, noting the market doesn’t figure to feature the dynamic likes of Johnny Cueto and others available a year ago. “But you never know. Perhaps there will be some surprises.”

That being said, Moore added emphatically, “I think all of our guys are capable of performing better.”

True: All have in the past.

Also true: It’s likely going to be on them to do just that.

The prospective remedies internally are a precious few.

For a reason anyone can understand: Because the Royals did the right thing before the trade deadline a year ago by acquiring Cueto and Ben Zobrist for five pitching prospects.

Never mind that four of them have been starting in the major leagues this season.

Forget, even, the perhaps-consoling point that entering Thursday they were a combined 8-20 with ERAs of 4.71 (Brandon Finnegan), 5.43 (John Lamb), 5.85 (Sean Manaea) and 9.00 (Cody Reed).

Even if the Royals hadn’t won the World Series, going all-in on trying to seize a moment that might come around, oh, about every 30 years was a critical message to send the team and fans.

But there has “been a carryover” from that, as Moore put it.

Amplified by unanticipated twists.

Before the season, for instance, Royals officials conservatively had projected 12 wins from a resurgent Medlen.

He will remain 11 shy of that for the foreseeable future after his rehabilitation from a rotator cuff injury that landed him on the disabled list on May 12 went further awry with the shoulder injury he suffered Tuesday for Class AAA Omaha.

The Royals also had counted on Chris Young, who was reborn in 2015 but has given up an astounding 26 home runs in 60 innings and as of Thursday was pulled from the rotation as he seeks solutions.

Most likely, he will be replaced by Dillon Gee or Brian Flynn — though Alec Mills in Omaha and Matt Strahm at Class AA Northwest Arkansas were discussed when team officials met Thursday.

Former Atlanta Brave Mike Minor, seeking a comeback from a torn labrum in his left pitching shoulder, “just hasn’t responded as well as we were hoping,” Moore said. He likely remains weeks away from a possible rehab assignment.

Meanwhile, the much-trumpeted Kyle Zimmer just hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to get any traction to helping any time soon.

Out of spring training, Moore figured Miguel Almonte might be ready to contribute by now. But he’s been held back by shoulder fatigue and a lack of performance in Omaha.

If the Royals had only to be concerned about the fifth spot in the rotation, this perhaps wouldn’t be such a consuming question.

But the rotation’s ERA of 5.05 entering the game on Thursday has a well-diversified base.

At any given time, Yordano Ventura (5.26 ERA) might pitch six-plus shutout innings … or get drubbed for seven runs in five-plus innings.

Edinson Volquez still is “Steady Eddie” … except when he’s not, accounting for that 12-run pummeling he absorbed while securing three outs and an ERA (4.87) nearly 50 percent above his in mid-July a year ago (3.31).

Though it’s unclear to what degree Moore bases it on science and how much on faith, he believes each can be more like the best version of himself in the second half of the season.

“Ventura’s been up and down, but when you have power you’re always capable of dominating,” Moore said. “Volquez is a terrific competitor, very smart. He’s going to figure out a way to have a great second half.”

Kennedy has been steadier, keeping the team in games frequently enough that Moore says he has “been everything we hoped for” in signing him as a free agent.

Still, he’s been prone to some fickleness himself: He has surrendered just six earned runs in 18 innings over his last three starts … right after enabling 18 runs over 22  1/3 innings in his previous four.

So for weeks now, the Royals most compelling starter has been Duffy — who began the season in the bullpen.

After he struggled with control and consistency last season, his future looked vague.

Even as he was succeeding in the bullpen, he also was mostly a luxury there – especially with neon needs in the rotation.

He’s been exceptional enough this season (allowing two runs in 6  1/3 innings on Thursday) that Moore harkened to two seasons ago.

Duffy, he said, “was as good as any starter in baseball. I still maintain that if Danny had stayed healthy in 2014, I think we would have finished that thing off.”

Now, lest they be finished off down the stretch, the Royals have to find a way to get more starts like his — whoever they come from.

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