Mindset at Heart of Duffy's Emergence As Starter

Mindset at Heart of Duffy's Emergence As Starter

Daily Clips

March31, 2017


Mindset at heart of Duffy's emergence as starter

Former reliever trusted with KC's Opening Day nod following breakthrough season

March 30, 2017By Jeffrey Flanagan/MLB.com

What really went wrong for the 2016 Royals and what must change in 2017

March 30, 2017By Sam Mellinger/KC Star

As spring training closes, Royals pitcher Travis Wood impressed with team chemistry

March 30, 2017By Shelby Hyde/KC Star

Getaway day and a minor-league umpire cost Christian Colon a needed at-bat

March 30, 2017By Lee Judge/KC Star

Royals’ Kennedy breaks camp with a spring ERA of 0.00

March 30, 2017FOXSportsKC.com (via AP)

Eric Hosmer could benefit from getting off the ground

March 30, 2017By Jake Seiner/Topeka Capital Journal (via AP)

March31, 2017 •.CBSSports.com


Mindset at heart of Duffy's emergence as starter

Former reliever trusted with KC's Opening Day nod following breakthrough season

March 30, 2017By Jeffrey Flanagan/MLB.com

The origin of Royals left-hander Danny Duffy's breakthrough season in 2016 can be traced to 2014.

That's when the Royals experimented with Duffy in the bullpen and he posted a 2.16 ERA in six appearances before returning to the rotation.

The next season, Duffy was back in the rotation and stayed there until struggling in late August and September. He finished that season in the bullpen, posting a 0.00 ERA in six appearances.

Hmmm. The Royals have converted many starters (Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, et al) into shutdown relievers in recent years, but the decision to attempt the same with Duffy was debated. The Royals liked Duffy's success out of the bullpen so much that he started last season in that role. He didn't disappoint, posting a 3.00 ERA in 16 games.

But as fate would have it, injuries to the rotation forced the Royals to make Duffy a starter again. And this time, he looked like a different starter. Duffy posted a 3.51 ERA and a 12-3 record in 26 starts last year, attacking each batter as if he were still a short-inning reliever.

Don't pace yourself. Attack.

The new approach worked, just like it had years ago with former Royals ace Zack Greinke, who used a bullpen role to eventually become more aggressive as a starter en route to winning an American League Cy Young Award.

"Being in the bullpen was really beneficial," Duffy said. "I had mostly really short stints in the bullpen, and having some success there really helped my confidence.

"And I took that approach, of just attacking, back to when I started again. It changed everything."

Duffy's turnaround as a starter in 2016 inspired manager Ned Yost to call the 28-year-old one of the elite left-handers in the Majors. And for Yost, it was an easy call to make Duffy the Royals' Opening Day starter on Monday in Minnesota.

"He earned it," Yost said. "He has emerged as an ace."

Duffy, who will be making his first career Opening Day start, said he was deeply moved when he got the news.

"It's such an honor," Duffy said. "I've been in 10 camps now and put in a lot of hard work to get to this point. So, yes, it was an honor. It was rewarding."

Duffy said he has no intention of changing his new, aggressive approach, even at the suggestion that it might be impossible to go all out with every hitter as a starter.

"I kind of disagree," Duffy said. "I understand about the whole fatigue factor. But even when I had just 70 percent left in the tank last year, I would still go 100 percent, all out, with that 70 percent.

"Obviously, your velocity will drop after a while, but that's what I do. It brought me success. I just try to condition myself to keep up my velocity, even in the seventh and eighth."

Duffy doesn't worry if other starters still have success with an old-school approach that favors pacing.

"Hey, there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's," Duffy said. "Everyone gets things done in different ways."

What really went wrong for the 2016 Royals and what must change in 2017

March 30, 2017By Sam Mellinger/KC Star

Before we get to the meat of this column about what went wrong for the Royals in 2016, a quick story about what went right for the Royals in 2015. You remember that season. The energy. The comebacks. The parade.

(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Kansas City Star’s 2017 Royals season preview, which will be available Sunday, April 2 on KansasCity.com and also in a 30-page special section inside Sunday’s print edition of The Star.)

But back in April, long before the dog-pile at Citi Field, the Royals had what Wade Davis considers their defining moment. It was the Oakland series, at Kauffman Stadium, the one where Brett Lawrie’s reckless slide into Alcides Escobar’s knee set off a weekend of finger pointing and testosterone.

Lawrie sent an apologetic text message to a number he had for Escobar, who said he never saw it, but either way a message came back from that number that was, well, less than gracious. There was posturing, words and ultimately a contentious weekend in which Yordano Ventura was ejected for plunking Lawrie, Kelvin Herrera was ejected for throwing behind Lawrie and pointing at his own head — and the Royals completed an eighth-inning comeback to win the series.

More than any of the Royals’ other 94 wins that regular season, more than the epic comeback in Houston, more than Lorenzo Cain’s dash around the bases in the ALCS and more than Eric Hosmer’s sprint home in the World Series, this was the moment that stuck out to Davis.

“You almost have this sense of, ‘(Expletive), did we screw up?’ ” Davis said. “And I felt like, as a team, we were like, ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re still going to come get you.’ That was the coolest moment for me.

“I’ve been on teams where stuff like that happens, you throw at somebody, and people don’t know what to do. You know it’s happening. You get rattled, and the next couple of days it’s a meltdown. In that moment, we were just going to get better than anything said about us or what was going on.”

We can talk about specific baseball reasons the Royals won just 81 games the season after the parade. Davis, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain were injured. Alex Gordon was injured, and terrible. Eric Hosmer’s on-base and slugging percentages slipped. The rotation lacked depth, the bullpen was not overwhelming and the defense was merely very good.

“Just kind of seemed like whenever we had things rolling, and stuff was going good, something would happen,” Hosmer said. “I mean, we lost two guys on one play. We’d win three or four in a row, then someone would go down. It just didn’t happen.”

This is usually where the conversation about 2016 leads. Too many injuries, and the cumulative fatigue of 324 regular-season and 31 postseason games over the previous two seasons catching up with them.

The team that overwhelmed the American League with swagger and bravado won just seven games in July, and now it’s 2017. I asked Salvador Perez if that same mentality fell back a bit.

“The mentality, yeah,” he said. “We missed a lot of guys, and we were tired from the last two years. We got down. When we’re at the stadium, we play hard anyway; you don’t think too much about it. But we got tired.”

That’s human nature, I said.

“Human nature, yes,” he said. “You don’t think about it. But we were tired. It was our mentality, sometimes it’s not physical or anything. It’s mentality. That’s why we need to be better, stay strong always and get back to the World Series.”

There is another side to this, one that general manager Dayton Moore felt but hadn’t articulated until now.

Moore’s Royals have always believed in the power and importance of resilience, perhaps more than most organizations. When Moore’s first official draft with the Royals began with selecting Moustakas second overall, the biggest concern the organization had was that Moose had not yet been through adversity. They did not know how he would handle it.

That’s a good problem to have, of course, but that philosophy — drive, effort and resilience often being more important than talent — guided the Royals over the last decade.

The results in 2014 and 2015 could not have been a more emphatic confirmation. The results of 2016 were an almost unfamiliar step back.

“You have to have the same relentlessness you had in pursuing a championship if you’re going to repeat,” Moore said. “You have to have the same focus on the fundamentals, on perseverance, and as human beings we tend to get a little satisfied at times. We should celebrate our successes, but you have to really stay relentless if you’re going to win.”

Moore hasn’t made this point before. He hasn’t wondered out loud about whether the 2016 team was too satisfied.

“I think we could’ve managed it a lot better,” he said. “I think we let (fatigue) be an excuse at times. When people bring that up, it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, we’re tired.’ ”

This sends Moore on a story. He said he was relieved when the Royals won Game 5 of the World Series in New York, because he sensed his team was wiped. Going back to Kansas City would’ve meant going back on a loss and having to beat Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom.

The 2015 Royals played baseball the way a mosh pit watches a concert — constant movement, constant intensity, constant madness. It worked, but it also required an enormous stamina.

“You can’t let that creep in and affect you mentally,” Moore said. “Maybe at times (that happened). I think what happened to our team, we had some mental and physical fatigue, and then you get injured and you have to get through that mental fatigue again.

“We had a terrible July, and then a good August, but when when Cain went down again, you just feel it, all of us went ...” — Moore exhales, and slumps his shoulders — “… no matter how we tried to combat that.”

Which brings us back to Davis’ story, at the top of this column.

Injuries are different than a unifying anger, so this is not a direct apples-to-apples comparison between 2015 and 2016.

Few things in sports can be better motivation than losing the World Series by one swing and then feeling like the baseball world is out to get you the next year — and few things in sports can be more deflating than losing four All-Stars to injury, including two on one play.

But we don’t get to pick our obstacles, and the only thing that matters is that the 2015 Royals beat their obstacles to a pulp while the 2016 Royals could not.

The 2015 Royals, quite literally, fought back — Davis said that was the moment. The 2016 Royals covered up — Moore said they let adversity be an excuse, instead of fuel.

When an organization and team is built so heavily on the intangible, these things take on disproportionate importance.

The 2017 Royals have reason to believe. Some of that is the calendar, of course, because even the 2004 Royals believed this time of year. But the rotation is better, and deeper, than it’s been in years. The lineup will have as many as six or even seven home run threats. They should have that energy back, and with four important pending free agents, a group of friends should have every motivation for both individual and team success.

But these things are impossible to predict. The Royals are projected to finish even worse than they did in 2016, according to several metrics and Las Vegas. As with any season, the list of things that might go wrong is long and daunting.

Baseball seasons are often measured in numbers, and around the Royals, we’ll keep close track of their home runs and quality starts and bullpen success. But if the last few years have taught us anything, we’ll learn much more in the moments when this group is challenged, either by themselves or the opposition or just bad luck.

Because that’s where they thrived in 2014, and especially 2015. And that’s where they failed in 2016.

As spring training closes, Royals pitcher Travis Wood impressed with team chemistry

March 30, 2017By Shelby Hyde/KC Star

Left-handed pitcher Travis Wood signed with the Royals just as spring training was opening in mid-February. Now, as spring training ends, he says his greatest takeaway from it is how the players are there for one another.

“Everybody pulls for each other, and it’s a true team,” Wood said of the Royals. “Everybody likes each other. We all get along, and when we’re out there, you can see people pulling for each other and backing people up.”

Royals manager Ned Yost said the team-as-family dynamic begins with Royals general manager Dayton Moore and includes Yost as well as the scouts.

“I think our culture is very important … to care for each other and be a good teammate,” Yost said. “We do a lot of homework on that when we bring guys over.”

Yost said Wood, who came from the Cubs, fits in with the team’s culture “very, very nicely.”

For upwards of two months in spring training, the Royals players have gotten to know each other better and have furthered their relationships, all the while focusing on their individual games.

Infielder Whit Merrifield said his biggest takeaway from spring training is that he’s happy with how he is playing.

“(At) this point you just want to be feeling good about your game going into the season,” Merrifield said. “That’s where I am. As spring (has) gone on, you work on certain things and try to get to the point where you feel good about your game, and I feel good about my game right now.

“You try to get your timing right,” Merrifield added. “You try to put the barrel on the ball as much as you can and get back to the rhythm of picking up the ball ... just get back to getting reps in on defense and at the plate. That’s pretty much what spring (is) for, and that’s where it is right now.

“Whether it’s a spring training game or the season, the goal every day … when you walk out in between those lines, it’s to win the game. It’s the kind of atmosphere that is in this clubhouse, and, hopefully, we can do a little better job this year of getting some wins.”

Getaway day and a minor-league umpire cost Christian Colon a needed at-bat

March 30, 2017By Lee Judge/KC Star

On Wednesday the Royals and Rangers played their last spring-training game in Arizona. After the game, both teams flew to Texas, where they’ll play a couple of exhibition games in Arlington before starting the regular season on Monday.

When a team plays a game and then travels, it’s known as getaway day.

And if you got a peek behind the scenes of the Royals’ spring-training complex, you saw a team preparing to travel.

The clubhouse attendants were packing up boxes, a room was filled with suitcases ready for shipping, moving vans were being filled with all kinds of gear and the players’ cars were being loaded on trucks to be driven back to Kansas City.

Wednesday was the last game after a long spring training and everybody was anxious to play a quick one; even the umpires.

It was a very quick game

The game was scheduled to start at 12:05, but the umpires jumped the gun and started it at 12:03. The whole affair took 2 hours and 11 minutes. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, but the teams didn’t have enough interest to stick around to play even one extra inning.

That’s the kind of game it was.

Minor-league umpires are often used in spring-training games and one of those minor league umpires, Billy Cunha, was behind the plate Wednesday.

If I counted correctly, 64 batters came to the plate and 22 of them saw the first pitch called a strike. If the umpires wanted a quick game, the hitters were cooperating; 27 of them swung at the first pitch.

If it sounds like everyone was trying to speed things up and finish a fairly meaningless game because they had more important things to do, you’ve got the picture.

But to Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon — a couple guys fighting for a roster spot — this game mattered a lot.

Colon’s eighth-inning punchout

If you trust those strike zones we see put up on our TV and computer screens, the first pitch to Colon was a strike on the outside corner. But strike two was inside and it wasn’t even close to the zone.

With the count 0-2, Colon had to swing at a fastball up and missed it.

Colon gestured to both sides of the plate and generally that means if the umpire is going to give pitches on the outside corner, he can’t give pitches off the plate inside; he’s making the zone too big. Colon wasn’t the only guy to have a questionable pitch called a strike, but a questionable call on Eric Hosmer isn’t going to hurt his chances of making the team.