Danny Duffy reflected on his final start of the season after losing 4-1 to the Tigers on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium. Maria Torres The Kansas City Star
Danny Duffy reflected on his final start of the season after losing 4-1 to the Tigers on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium. Maria Torres The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Royals

Royals lose; Duffy turns nostalgic in final start of season

By Rustin Dodd

rdodd@kcstar.com

September 28, 2017 10:12 PM

UPDATED September 29, 2017 07:18 AM

Usually the province of weddings, funerals and high-school graduations, the song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by the rock band Green Day is not quite a staple at baseball stadiums. It is acoustic and slow and melancholy, the orchestral sound of strings playing under lyrics about turning points and forks in the road and lessons learned in time. It’s usually reserved for the final scenes of sit-coms.

But this is not a normal week at Kauffman Stadium, not a normal week for the Royals franchise, and Danny Duffy is not your normal frontline starting pitcher. So at some point before his start on Thursday night against the Detroit Tigers — a 4-1 loss in a series finale — he asked the in-stadium entertainment crew to play the song as he warmed up prior to the first inning.

The symbolism was evident. At first base stood Eric Hosmer, a friend and teammate he had known for nine years. Inside the dugout was third baseman Mike Moustakas, a man with whom he had bonded for a decade. In three days, Hosmer and Moustakas — along with center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar — could play their final games in a Royals uniform. As he stepped on the mound for his last start of the season, and perhaps his final one alongside his friends, Duffy sought to capture the moments and put them in still frames in his mind.

“I get sentimental about certain things,” Duffy said, smiling as his voice started to give in the moments after the loss. “It’s just the way I am. It’s in my DNA.”

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If the reality of the evening tugged at his emotions, Duffy’s performance, perhaps, did not rise to the occasion. In his third appearance since returning from a forearm strain, he permitted four runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers’ piecemeal lineup. In the top of the fifth, he issued two walks and allowed two singles before Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos cleared the bases with a three-run double.

Moments later, Royals manager Ned Yost emerged from the first-base dugout and thrust his right hand in the air. As Duffy stood near the rubber, ready to hand the ball to his manager, he offered a bear hug to Hosmer before walking off to a polite standing ovation in the section behind the Royals’ dugout. Later, he reflected on his feelings heading into the night.

“It’s a hard prospect to think about,” Duffy said. “It’s something that you never would think that it’s gonna come to an end. So hopefully it doesn’t. But these guys reserve every right — they’ve worked their butts off — to test the market.”

The Royals (78-81) closed out their penultimate series of the season and must sweep the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend to finish .500 on the season (and at least .500 for a fifth straight year). On Friday night, starter Ian Kennedy will start opposite former Royals ace Zack Greinke, who will be preparing to take the mound for Arizona in the National League wild-card game on Wednesday.

The weekend will cascade with emotions, with tattoos of memories. That much is clear. The Royals’ future, on the other hand, is something unpredictable. The looming class of free agents — and the uncertainty they represent — will define the offseason. Duffy is hopeful that, in the end, it will be right.

Yet Kansas City can count on one left-handed starter to be part of the ensuing chapter. On Thursday, Duffy closed out his first season since signing a five-year, $65 million contract extension last winter. In moments, his campaign was promising. In others, it left you wanting more.

He finished the season with a 3.81 ERA in 146 1/3 innings across 24 starts. He struck out 130 while issuing 41 walks. He was dogged by an oblique strain that wiped out his June and a nagging elbow issue that caused pain in his arm in August and sidelined him for nearly a month.

There was also an off-field episode in late August, a citation for driving under the influence in Overland Park that will need to be resolved in the coming months. His arm could require maintenance as well.

Duffy has hinted that his elbow may need to be “addressed” in the offseason to root out the discomfort. On Thursday, his velocity dipped to around 90 mph for most of his start. Royals officials have stressed that his arm is structurally sound. Any procedure would presumably be in the category of a clean-out, rather than a major surgery.

“I’m excited to get this thing fixed and not deal with it next year,” Duffy said, not disclosing the nature of the injury.

Given the uneven nature of his season, it would be easy to view his performance as a disappointment. Yet Duffy still entered Thursday with the 15th best ERA in the American League among starters with at least 140 innings. The Royals believe he is capable of more.

“He’s got tremendous stuff,” Yost said. “He’s grown so much in the last three years.”

In 2015, when Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and others helped the Royals to a World Series championship, Duffy was relegated to the bullpen in the playoffs. In 2018, he will be expected to anchor a rotation that could feature Kennedy, Nathan Karns, Jason Hammel and Jakob Junis.

Royals Danny Duffy battles command in 4-1 loss to Tigers

Royals manager Ned Yost talked about starter Danny Duffy's command issues in Duffy's final start of the season on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium. Duffy allowed four runs in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers.

Maria Torres The Kansas City Star

After a career breakthrough in 2016, and an injury-filled encore, Duffy’s next step could involve good health and good time. As Yost discussed Duffy’s season on Thursday afternoon, he used the word “consistency” at least three times.

“Do I think he has the ability to be one of those top-line guys in the American League? Yeah, I definitely do,” Yost said. “But you look at the top-line guys, they’re going to the post ... they’re consistent. They don’t have a lot of ups and downs over the course of the year.”

So Duffy will seek to make the best of this test, and he will not ask why about his teammates and their pending free agencies. But, of course, he could be left moving forward on a team without Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Escobar. The thought still jars him.

“They’ve given everything they’ve had and then some for a decade to this city, this organization,” Duffy said. “If they do bounce, I’m gonna miss them dearly, obviously.”

So on Thursday, as the music began, he sought to enjoy the moment. Another friend and former teammate, right-handed pitcher Kris Medlen, had come to town to catch up. Duffy was motivated to finish the season well.

As the game began, he lacked command and his sharpest off-speed stuff. By the fifth inning, time had grabbed him by the wrist and his evening was done. Nearly two hours later, as he stood near his locker, he pondered the future and the meaning of this start.

“It’s a tough thing to think about,” he said. “But we’ve played our butts off for each other forever … for our whole adult lives for some of us.”

Tigers 4, Royals 1

Detroit

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Iglesias ss

5

0

1

0

0

0

.255

Machado 2b

2

1

0

0

2

0

.271

Castellanos rf

4

0

2

3

0

1

.274

McCann dh

4

0

1

0

0

0

.252

Hicks 1b

3

0

1

0

1

1

.271

Navarro 1b

0

0

0

0

0

0

.224

Holaday c

4

0

0

0

0

1

.217

Romine 3b

3

1

1

0

1

0

.231

Presley lf

4

1

1

0

0

1

.323

Jones cf

4

1

1

1

0

3

.159

Totals

33

4

8

4

4

7

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

4

0

1

0

0

0

.287

Cain dh

3

0

1

0

1

0

.300

Cabrera rf

4

0

0

0

0

0

.287

Hosmer 1b

3

0

0

0

0

0

.317

Perez c

1

0

0

0

0

0

.268

Butera c

2

0

0

0

0

1

.233

Escobar ss

3

0

0

0

0

0

.250

Cuthbert 3b

3

0

1

0

0

0

.237

Orlando cf

3

1

2

1

0

0

.193

Gordon lf

3

0

0

0

0

0

.211

Totals

29

1

5

1

1

1

Detroit

000

040

000

4

8

0

Royals

000

001

000

1

5

0

LOB: Detroit 6, Kansas City 2. 2B: Castellanos (36), Orlando (2). HR: Orlando (2), off Saupold. RBIs: Castellanos 3 (99), Jones (13), Orlando (6). SB: Hicks (2).

Runners left in scoring position: Detroit 4 (Machado, McCann, Hicks, Holaday); Kansas City 1 (Merrifield). RISP: Detroit 2 for 8; Kansas City 0 for 3. Runners moved up: Gordon. GIDP: Holaday, Romine, Cabrera, Hosmer, Orlando. DP: Detroit 3 (Romine, Machado, Hicks), (Romine, Machado, Navarro), (Machado, Iglesias, Navarro); Kansas City 2 (Cuthbert, Merrifield, Hosmer), (Cuthbert, Merrifield, Hosmer).

Detroit

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Norris W, 5-8

5

2

0

0

0

1

54

5.31

Saupold

1

1

1

1

0

0

15

4.79

Stumpf

1

0

0

0

0

0

11

3.89

VerHagen

1

1

0

0

0

0

13

5.67

Greene S, 8

1

1

0

0

1

0

16

2.70

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Duffy L, 9-10

4.11

6

4

4

3

4

86

3.81

McCarthy

2.1

1

0

0

1

2

30

2.84

Buchter

1.1

1

0

0

0

0

20

2.97

Herrera

1

0

0

0

0

1

8

4.32

Holds: Stumpf (8), VerHagen (5). Inherited runners-scored: McCarthy 1-0, Buchter 2-0.

Umpires: Home, Greg Gibson; First, Jim Wolf; Second, Laz Diaz; Third, D.J. Reyburn. Time: 2:44. Att: 21,650.