The radar gun loves Danny Duffy. It loves him the way the camera loves Kate Upton. He throws a ball that cracks when it hits the catchers mitt, the sound of leather struck by lightning.
According to FanGraphs.com, among starters whove logged at least 20 innings, the fastball velocity of the Royals left-hander is tops in the American League (95.3 miles per hour, on average), and second in all of baseball to only Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals (95.7).
I mean, thats cool and all, Duffy says of his radar love. Then he shrugs. But that doesnt win you ballgames.
Control does. Location does. What good is bringing a howitzer to the party if you cant hit the broad side of a barn?
(New pitching coach) Dave (Eiland) has done a really good job of just putting it into words that I understand really well, says the California native, whos slated to make his fifth start of the season tonight against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Its just really simple, you know? You make good pitches, youre smart. You make bad pitches, youre stupid. I mean, Hoch (Luke Hochevar) brought that up to me a while (ago), and it makes perfect sense. You do everything you can to execute every pitch, and you cant be mad if the result isnt what you want it to be.
Greg Maddux used to point out that when most pitchers get into a jam, they try to throw harder. Maddux tried to locate better. Duffy gets that now. As of Monday night, he ranked third in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (10.32) among pitchers whove made at least four starts. Hitters are swinging and missing at his pitches 10.9 percent of the time, the fourth-highest whiff ratio among starters in the American League.
Royals teammate Bruce Chen: I dont want to say (hes) the best, but one of the best. He (has) like Jon Lester-type of stuff.
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira: Man, a lefty that throws 99? You just dont see it.
When Duffys on the bump, Royals fans see something else: Hope. Blessed, wonderful, concrete hope. They see the first in a cavalry of young arms Duffy turned 23 last December 21 emerging to finish the job that Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have started. At the start of the week, less than a third of the 2012 starts by Kansas City pitchers (30 percent) had amounted to quality starts, the second-lowest total in the American League behind Minnesotas 26 percent. Going into the Red Sox series, Royals starters had averaged the fewest innings per start (5.0) and pitches per start (88) of any rotation in the American League.
Ive seen a lot of guys careers getting off the path because of injuries, Chen says. Sometimes, they like to party and they dont work as hard, or they take things for granted. And then there are people that, yeah, theyre good, but they dont have as good of stuff as people thought that they did. For Duffy, I think its different. He works very hard. Ive seen guys like Strasburg and (Kerry) Wood and (Mark) Prior, and all those guys have really good stuff. For a lefty, besides Randy Johnson ...
Like a young Johnson, when Duffys right, that fastball can get inside a batters head. And like a young Johnson, when Duffys wrong, it might wind up whizzing past a hitters helmet. Were almost at the 1-year anniversary of the leftys big-league debut, last May 18, against Texas. Duffy wound up making 20 starts as a rookie, and like most rookies, the results tended to bounce between two extremes. If five appearances, the 6-foot-3 southpaw surrendered five earned runs or more; while in nine others, he gave up just two. In three of his starts, he managed to walk four or more batters; in another five, hed issued just one free pass.
Hes not that far, Chen says. Its not like hes throwing over the catcher or missing by a lot. Hes just missing, barely. Yeah, at this level, theyre balls. But theyre only balls by two or three inches. So hes very close, and when he gets it over and he starts pumping that strike zone, hes very hard to hit.
From the outset, two things were apparent: First, Duffy had a wicked repertoire fastball, curve, change. Second, that repertoire was all over the map.
I was really inconsistent last year, Duffy explains. I still needed to get a (handle) on my curveball a little bit.
Over the winter, Duffy went back home to sort out his release point and his mettle. When he wasnt running on the beach with his dogs Danny likes to go six miles a day, if he can, as an escape he was polishing his mechanics. Eiland called frequently, and at one point suggested a tweak with Duffys hands during his delivery. Taking Eilands advice, he lowered them, while also making an effort to slow that delivery down in order to keep his offerings from sailing high.
So far, so good: Against the Yankees last Thursday, a 4-3 Kansas City victory, Duffy threw just 90 pitches. That was his lowest total in a winning start since last July 31, when he needed 89 to dispatch Cleveland.
I heard all of the talk about my pitch count, and what-not. But you know, thats something that people hang on to, Duffy says. There are a lot of people that throw a lot more pitches than I do. As long as were winning, what the heck? I mean, theres just always something thats going to be negative thats going to be said.
Up close, Duffy is the positive type humble, blunt, and fiercely loyal. The first thing he did with his signing bonus was develop, order and deliver new uniforms designed by one of Duffys pals for his old baseball team at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, Calif. On March 31, he rented out Storm Stadium, home field of the Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, so his alma mater could use it to play Linfield Christian.
You cant put a price on these kids smiling (about) where they were, Duffy said. And it was really cool. Really cool.
The passion comes from his father, Dan, an investigator with the Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Department. The cannon comes from his mother, Deanna, a teacher and former prep softball player. His mom first brought Danny to a gymnasium, during one of his dads practices, when he was just three days old. Hes been hanging around them ever since. Growing up, Deanna would throw batting practice; Dan would shag flyballs.
When (Danny) wants something, his father notes, hes burning inside to get it.
What Duffy wants now is to give back to the organization that drafted him in 2007, the organization that gave him a second chance after he walked away from the game for a few months in the spring of 2010.
He basically just shut down everything, the elder Duffy says of his sons sabbatical. He was done listening, talking. He just wanted to circle the wagons and sort it out. He just went to within, to his faith, to what he really believed in, and had to sort that stuff out.
Danny doesnt trumpet his faith a la Tim Tebow but he does make a point to attach a Bible verse to his autographs. Its Colossians 3:23, which reads: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
When Duffy tweeted in February that he wanted to be buried a Royal, it came straight from the heart.
I never regret anything I say, Duffy allows. I just let it go. Im real.
Real. Legit. Take that Yankee game last week, which initially looked like it might turn into a long day at the office. Derek Jeter singled leading off the top of the first; after two outs, Alex Rodriguez walked. With two men on, the lefty worked Robinson Cano into a 1-2 count. For his fourth pitch, Duffy went back to the howitzer, belt-high, outside third of the plate.
In an instant, the mitt cracked. Cano flailed and missed, twisting himself into a pretzel. The gun on the scoreboard flashed 99 miles per hour. A love note to the future.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org