CLEVELAND (TNS) — As he sauntered toward the stereo system in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field on Friday afternoon, a far-off look in his eyes, Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy was asked what was wrong.
“Can’t figure it out yet,” he said under his breath, shuffling across the carpet in his athletic sandals.
Someone had left music playing on the speakers 3 1/2 hours before Duffy was scheduled to make his second start of the season. And if you know Duffy at all, you know he’s a stickler for his pre-start playlist.
Soon, he remedied the situation. His mix cycled through reggae, rap and pop. Duffy sat at his locker, seemingly satisfied, for at least the next 30 minutes.
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A small adjustment was all it took to lift the mood.
And a few hours later, after faltering in a 37-pitch first inning in the Royals’ 3-2 loss to the Indians, a slight adjustment on the mound was all it took for Duffy to work himself out of a rut and onto the brink of a quality start.
His stride had gotten long and messed with his arm slot. The four-seam fastball he’s determined to use more this season ran too far off the plate.
Through five batters in the first inning, Duffy only induced three swings. One of them was from Jason Kipnis, who eventually walked. Jose Ramirez swung at the fifth pitch of his at-bat and drove in a run. Michael Brantley swung at the first pitch he saw and deposited it in right field, just over the head of second baseman Whit Merrifield, for a two-run single.
Instead of letting himself unravel, Duffy shortened his stride. He retired the next three batters and ended the inning. He would retire 14 of 17 before reliever Brad Keller came into the game with two outs in the sixth inning. Between ratcheting up his pitch count to 37 in the first and coasting through the fifth inning, Duffy had settled and thrown 49 pitches.
“We just needed to find that landing spot,” Duffy said.
Despite throwing six straight pitches outside the zone to start the first inning, issuing three walks and allowing a pair of no-out, RBI hits to bury the early 2-0 lead he was given, Duffy pitched like the ace of a staff should.
“Once he found it, he was nails,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Yet as Duffy neutralized the Indians’ lineup, Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco did the same to the Royals’ order after giving up a pair of runs on soft-hit ground balls in the first.
Fly balls that might have cleared the fences on a day where gusts weren’t violently whipping the flags at center field were stopped just shy of the warning track.
And Drew Butera's leadoff, opposite-field single in the sixth inning gave the Royals their first base runner since Lucas Duda had reached on an RBI single in the first.
After Butera's hit, the Royals loaded the bases. But they could not cash in: With one out, Duda struck out on a pitch on the outside corner called by home-plate umpire Roberto Ortiz for a strike, and Cheslor Cuthbert lined out to left field to end the Royals’ best opportunity to score.
In all, the Royals hit 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. They left six runners on base. Duffy's seamless adjustment to keep the game within reach was spoiled by a corps of Indians pitchers who struck out nine Royals and induced two double plays.
"We did have some chances," Yost said. "We hit some balls good. The wind kind of knocked some balls down.
"We just couldn’t muster that one or two runs to give us the lead to get to the back end of our pen."