Duffy looks to build on his debut season

Duffy looks to build on his debut season

Duffy looks to build on his debut season
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A California kid, Danny Duffy spent his offseason in Santa Barbara, doing some R & R & R. That's rest, recuperation and some reflection, too.

"I like going to the beach and running out on the beach with my dogs," he said. "I did a lot of that in this offseason."

Duffy also did a lot of thinking about his first season of pitching for Kansas City. The Royals' rookie left-hander was worked into the starting rotation in mid-May, and made 20 starts before being shut down because of an innings limit in early September. The result: a 4-8 record, a 5.64 ERA, and concern about his ability to throw enough strikes.

"I definitely need to throw more strikes, I've kind of tweaked my delivery a little, slowed it down and added kind of a toe-tap. I stay over the rubber a lot longer and I get a lot more downward angle," Duffy said. "Slowing it down, the tempo has helped me repeat my delivery."

Duffy dished out 51 walks and hit five batters, too, in his 105 1/3 innings for the Royals. Bruce Chen, a veteran left-hander with a knack for throwing strikes, often took Duffy aside last season to offer advice. This winter, Duffy frequently talked by phone with new pitching coach Dave Eiland.

By watching videos, Eiland determined, among other things, that Duffy was holding his hands too high and jumping toward the plate in his delivery -- factors which made his arm drag and threw off his momentum, rhythm, timing and control. Eiland has noticed significant improvement in Spring Training.

"Absolutely -- his sides from the early camp, right into the BP. Now, the next step is to take it from BP into the games, which is the most important and final step," Eiland said. "But he's been fantastic so far."

Duffy was 22 years old, and had just eight starts at the Triple-A level, when he was thrust into the Royals' rotation for a crash course into Major League pitching.

"Yeah, that was the whole idea," manager Ned Yost said. "Put him in the environment, let him feel it, let him sense it, let him understand what it's like, so he learns exactly what it's like and what you need to do so that doesn't happen. That's called experience. It's natural, it's normal."

It was, indeed, a big learning experience for Duffy.

"I didn't feel overmatched. I feel like the talent level is a lot higher. I don't really ever feel overwhelmed on the mound," Duffy said. "I feel like when I'm on, I can get anybody out. It's just a matter of learning how to approach certain situations, and doing that day in and day out. I've learned a good amount over the offseason, and I'm going to continue to learn."

Duffy found that watching the pitching movements of right-hander Luke Hochevar helped him quite a bit. It's a method of learning that Hochevar used himself.

"I think it's just finding what's comfortable for him, as it was for me," Hochevar said. "I watched Zack [Greinke] and Gil [Meche], and I would see something that looked comfortable and [I'd] try it -- and if it feels good, then it sticks. I wish it came quicker for me, but it does take some time -- and that's why I try to help. And hopefully Duffy can miss some of the speed bumps I hit along the way."

Hochevar felt that Duffy handled his arrival in the Major Leagues quite well.

"That was tough, [but] he came in, kind of hit the ground running, worked hard and listened, paid attention, and tried to get better every day," Hochevar said. "That was really good to see, and that's what he did -- he got better and better."

Duffy induced a lot of swings and misses. His 87 strikeouts in his 105 1/3 innings gave him an average of 7.43 per nine innings, third-best ratio ever for a Royals rookie (minimum 100 innings). Only Bob Johnson (8.66) in 1970, and Tom Gordon, (8.45) in 1989, were higher.

In just 3 2/3 innings at St. Louis on June 19, Duffy struck out nine Cardinals, making him just the third Major League pitcher since 1946 to strike out nine or more in less than four innings. The problem was, he piled up 90 pitches in the process, and was taken out of the game.

This year, Duffy believes he'll have his pitches more under control.

"I belong up here, for sure," Duffy said. "I have confidence that I can stay here for quite some time, and I'm really excited to help this team out however I can this year."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.