What Danny Duffy gave the Royals earlier this month in a spot start in Detroit, he delivered with even greater emphasis Wednesday night in a 8-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Duffy was dominant and, at times, electric and virtually unhittable. He often flashed those qualities in the past before elbow surgery — the now-iconic Tommy John procedure — put everything on hold.
“It’s just repetition,” Duffy said. “They told me this when I first had surgery that it was going to take some time to get my feel back. That’s exactly what happened. I’ve been lucky to have it come back as fast as it has.”
What was different this time was Duffy (2-0) owned the strike zone. Seven strikeouts and no walks in 6 2/3 shutout innings before the Royals went to their bullpen in closing out a fourth straight victory.
“He had everything tonight,” manager Ned Yost said. “He had great stuff. He had command. He’s such a competitor, but he did a great job of his mound presence. He was on the attack. He was in control.
“The game that he pitched tonight, you can’t ask for a better game than he pitched.”
Nor could the Royals ask for more from catcher Salvy Perez, who not only guided Duffy through a masterful performance but also accelerated his own offensive surge with four hits, including two homers, and four RBIs.
“That’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Perez who has four homers and 11 RBIs in his last four games. “I’m just doing my job and trying to help my team. I’ve got to keep doing that.”
The Royals also got a homer from Alex Gordon in a 13-hit attack.
Perez’s two homers were absolute bombs, and he nearly had a third one; his drive to deep right-center in the second inning hit high off the wall and resulted in a double.
The Royals built a 3-0 lead against Minnesota rookie lefty Andrew Albers, who had baffled them in his big-league debut Aug. 6 at Kauffman Stadium by working 8 1/3 innings in a 7-0 victory.
Albers (2-2) was pretty good this time, too: two earned runs (three in all) and six hits in seven innings. He gave up Gordon’s homer in the third and Perez’s first bomb, after Billy Butler reached on an error, in the fourth.
The Royals blew open the game with a three-run eighth against Casey Fien, which included Perez’s second homer, and a two-run ninth against Anthony Swarzak.
It was the Royals’ fourth straight victory since ending a seven-game skid and boosted their record to 68-64, but they remained seven games behind Oakland in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The Royals did, however, gain one game on each of the three teams between them and the A’s when Cleveland, Baltimore and New York lost.
“We’re swinging the bats well,” Butler said. “We just went through a tough stretch. Our tough stretches have been more drastic than in years past, even though our winning streaks have been more drastic, too.
“It’s been an up-and-down year but, at some point — and, hopefully, it’s now — we’re going to figure it out and eliminate those losing streaks.”
Perez’s single in the sixth also created a stir because it followed an up-and-in pitch from Albers with two outs and nobody on base. Perez backed away, pointed to his ribs and called out to Albers: “Not my head!”
Albers raised his hands and shook his head to indicate no intent.
“I'm not trying to go after his head,” Albers insisted. “I am trying to go inside, and sometimes it gets away. Unfortunately that one did get away, and it didn’t look very good.”
Even afterward, Perez wasn’t convinced.
“The situation, nobody on base and two outs,” he said. “And the first pitch (comes up and in). The first two at-bats, he never threw a pitch way in to me. I didn’t say anything bad.
“I just said, ‘If you’re going to hit me, hit me in my back. Don’t try to hit me in my head.’”
Perez then lined a single back through the box that forced Albers to duck.
“He had a heck of a game, didn’t he?” Duffy said. “He got me hyped when he answered with the line drive up the middle. Salvy is a monster back there.”
Home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt talked to Albers at the end of the inning and to Duffy prior to the start of the Twins’ sixth. Nothing more came of the matter.
The Royals recalled Duffy, officially, from Triple-A Omaha prior to the game, although they announced plans Tuesday to have him replace Wade Davis in the rotation for the remainder of the year.
The move came 12 days after Duffy, in a spot start, pitched six scoreless innings in outdueling Justin Verlander in a 2-1 victory in the first game of a double-header sweep at Detroit.
Duffy responded this time by overmatching the the Twins before exiting after Chris Herrmann’s two-out single in the seventh.
“Sometimes, he gets too excited on the mound,” Perez said, “but I’d tell him to just calm down a little bit and focus on my glove. We’re going to work both sides of the plate. That’s what he did tonight.”
Herrmann’s single came on Duffy’s 103rd pitch, which marked as far as Yost was willing to go for a 24-year-old less than 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery.
“That’s what it’s been all year long,” Yost said. “I’m not pushing him (much) past 100 pitches. When Herrmann got the hit, that was it.”
It was also just 3-0 at the time. In came Luke Hochevar, just back from three days of paternity leave. He ended the inning by retiring Chris Colabello on a routine fly to right.
The Royals pushed their lead to 6-0 with a three-run eighth. Fien yielded a one-out double to Eric Hosmer, an RBI single to Butler and Perez’s second boomer.
Butler bases-loaded infield single highlighted the two-run ninth against Swarzak. Hochevar pitched the Minnesota eighth before the Twins avoided a shutout on Justin Morneau’s homer in the ninth against Aaron Crow.
“That was fun,” Duffy said, “but I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I can’t leave stuff up. I left a couple of hangers, and Salvy came out and let me know it.”
Not often, though.