Danny Duffy provided the clearest evidence yet, with a masterful outing Friday afternoon, that he just might evolve into the sort of dominant homegrown starting pitcher the Royals have long desired.
Duffy worked six scoreless innings in outpitching long-time Royals nemesis Justin Verlander in a 2-1 victory on the first game of a day/night doubleheader at Comerica Park.
“He’s handed me four of my losses in my career,” Duffy said. “That was in the back of my mind, too. It was definitely nice. That was a huge win for us. Now, I’m excited to see (James) Shields do his thing this next game.”
Shields responded with seven shutout innings as the Royals completed a sweep with a 3-0 victory. It marked the first time since 1984 that the Royals won two games on the same day in Detroit.
Just what the Royals needed after losing their three previous games.
Duffy’s victory came in his second big-league start since returning from Tommy John surgery to replace a torn elbow ligament.
“It was a big bounce-back win in a quick turnaround,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who opened the scoring with a homer in the fourth inning.
“We needed an outing like that from Duffy. He did a phenomenal job and handed it off to the bullpen, and they sealed the deal like they always do.”
Hosmer also opened the scoring in the second game with a two-run homer in the third inning against Tigers starter Jose Alvarez.
It was still 2-0 when Alvarez (1-3), exited with two on and two outs in the sixth. Jeremy Bonderman got the final out in the sixth but yielded a leadoff single in the seventh to Chris Getz.
Bonderman’s two-base error on a pickoff attempt moved Getz to third and turned into a run when Jamey Carroll sent a sacrifice fly to left.
Shields (8-8) turned over that 3-0 lead to Luke Hochevar to start the eighth inning. Shields gave up three hits and struck out just one while walking four in a 106-pitch outing.
Hochevar pitched a one-two-three eighth before Greg Holland gained his second save of the day, and 34th of the season, with a scoreless ninth.
The Royals built a 2-0 lead in the opener against Verlander, 12-9, on Hosmer’s homer in and successive doubles in the seventh inning by Justin Maxwell and Emilio Bonifacio.
After that, it was just a matter of whether the bullpen could close out Duffy’s victory. Kelvin Herrera worked a scoreless seventh, but Aaron Crow yielded a leadoff homer in the eighth to pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago.
Crow retired the next three hitters before Holland pitched around a one-out walk in the ninth inning.
“Our pitch-ing!” catcher George Kottaras said. “The whole team made it happen. Duffy started it off by going out there and keeping those guys totally off-balance.
“He had some command troubles at times, but he always got himself back into the counts. He’s just got great stuff, and he kept us in the game the whole time.”
Duffy (1-1) didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the sixth inning when Miguel Cabrera smoked a hard grounder to the left side. Bonifacio made a diving attempt from third but merely deflected the ball.
A clean single.
“I thought I had it the whole time,” Bonifacio insisted. “I thought I had a good chance. But when the ball hit in the dirt, it kicked up and went off my glove.”
Duffy retired Prince Fielder for the final out but, having thrown 96 pitches, didn’t return for the seventh. Duffy’s final line showed one hit, no runs, three walks, three strikeouts and a hit batter.
Yost said Duffy would not have returned for the seventh even if he had a no-hitter in place.
“Even if he doesn’t give up a hit in the sixth inning,” Yost said, “he doesn’t doesn’t have enough pitches to go seven, eight and nine. Why send him back out for the seventh? He was at his pitch limit, and that was it.
“And I had a rested Herrera, a rested Crow and a rested Holland. My mind-set coming in was if he could give us five strong innings today, we’d be in great shape. He gave us six. So he went above my expectation.”
Verlander was tough in limiting the Royals to two runs and seven hits while throwing 124 pitches in eight innings. But he suffered a second straight loss to the Royals after winning 15 of his previous 17 decisions.
“Felt like I threw the ball well,” Verlander said. “Just their guys pitched extremely well, which is they’ve done all year.”
By sweeping, the Royals pulled to within 6 1/2 games of first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division and, temporarily, to within 4 1/2 games of Oakland for the final AL wild-card berth.
And now Duffy heads back to Triple-A Omaha.
“I mean, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” he shrugged. “I’m just going to keep doing what I have to do to help this team however I can. And whatever happens, happens.”
The Royals have little choice because they recalled Duffy, officially, just prior to the game under the 26th-player provision for doubleheaders. Those players must be sent back the following day.
He’ll be back but, barring an injury to another starter, not until September.
“Right now, the rest of our starters are doing pretty well, too,” manager Ned Yost said. “So, we’ve got two weeks until the rosters expand (to 40 players).
“We’ll let him go down and get another start or two and then come back up and help us in September.”