The Royals certainly felt cautiously optimistic about the potential return of left-handed veteran starter Danny Duffy this week, but they kept fingers crossed until he made a rehab assignment in the minors.
Well, the Royals evaluators saw what they needed to see and Duffy will make his first start Friday against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium. Royals manager Ned Yost made the announcement Monday prior to the team’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Duffy still hasn’t been activated from the injured list, but he joined the team in Florida.
“I’m excited to throw and be back in the big leagues because it feels like it’s been a long time,” Duffy said in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field, still dripping with sweat from his pregame run.
Duffy went 5 1/3 innings, gave up four hits and one unearned run in a rehab outing for Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Saturday night. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter in an outing he described as “effectively wild.”
“I was up to 95 and it was back,” Duffy said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see that again. So it’s gonna be fun to get back out there and compete.”
Duffy’s fastball, which got up in the zone at times, sat between 92 to 94 mph for most of the outing.
A former third-round draft pick in 2007 who made his Royals debut in 2011, Duffy matched a career-high with 12 losses last season (8-12, 4.88 ERA).
He came into spring training intent on returning to the form of old, but the Royals shut him down in the middle of spring training because of shoulder tightness. Duffy described the feeling as though his shoulder was in a vice grip.
Duffy spent time on the disabled list in August because of a shoulder impingement.
Monday, Duffy said he’s made some mechanical adjustments, but he didn’t want to get into specifics or give anything away to potential opponents. He did say the changes were in the works at the start of spring training, but he didn’t get a chance to fully implement them because of the shoulder ailment.
“I feel like I’ve got a feel for every pitch that I’m throwing,” Duffy said. “It’s just kind of about getting a location down now and getting the hang of pounding the bottom of the zone and elevating when I need to — not when I don’t want to.”
The Royals entered Monday night 2-5 through the first seven games of their 10-game road trip. Duffy, who remained in extended spring training in Arizona when the team broke camp, said he’s watched every game this season.
“They’ve been able to grind out some games,” Duffy said. “There’s been some that have been tough losses, but it’s still so early. Everyone is still getting a feel for their roles. The guys are going to come around. I hope that I can help in anyway that I can.”
Yost declined to say how the pitching rotation will shake out going forward. Monday night’s starter Brad Keller is appealing a five-game MLB suspension. The Royals have an off day on Thursday. With the off day and Duffy starting on Friday, they could manipulate the rotation multiple ways depending on how much rest they want to give to the other starters.
“He’s been one of our better starters over the last couple of years,” Yost said. “When he’s healthy, we know what type of pitcher he is. He’s feeling good. His last start was good. He’s built up to 100 pitches, so we’re glad to have him back.”