Only thing between Duffy and ace status? Pitch count

Royals' Danny Duffy has the stuff to be an ace; he just needs to learn to pitch to contact

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There is no question that Royals left-hander Danny Duffy has electric stuff, even after having Tommy John surgery.


Ask the Tigers, whom Duffy shut out on one hit through six innings back in August.


"That kid can really bring it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said at the time. "We didn't really know what to do with him."


Or ask the Twins, whom Duffy stoned on five hits through 6 2/3 innings two weeks later.


"His fastball really explodes in the zone," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said back then. "It's tough to sit on anything, too, when he gets that curve over."


But the problem for Duffy, as always has been the case, is harnessing his stable of great pitches. When he commands his fastball, curve and straight change, he breezes through lineups.


It just doesn't happen in long enough stretches.


In fact, throughout his pro career, which began in 2007, Duffy, 24, has never lasted beyond the seventh inning. He has had two seven-inning complete games in the minors.


Through 31 major league starts and 86 minor league starts, he has never seen the eighth inning.


"That's kind of been the thing everyone makes a big deal out of," Duffy says. "I want to fix that, obviously. My goal is to make it into the eighth inning and pitch a complete game.


"But hey, it's a lot easier said than done."


Step No. 1, naturally, is for Duffy to throw more strikes, induce contact and keep his pitch count down.


"If he ever does that," one American League scout says, "he would become an ace. A left-hander who can throw 97 with his curve? Yeah, he'd be an ace. But he has to find a way to keep his pitch count down or he just becomes another pitcher with great stuff who doesn't last in this game."


Duffy knows this, of course.


"I hear about pitching to contact a lot," he says. "But sometimes it's hard to do. I mean, I can try and do that and keep the ball down and then the next thing you know, some hitter is fouling off 10 pitches -- there goes the pitch count."


It has been suggested that Duffy too often tries to blow away hitters, which contributes to his high pitch count.


Duffy doesn't see it that way.


"I've had people foul off five or six pitches whether I throw 95 or 98 or 92," he says. "It doesn't seem to matter. So sometimes even when I'm not trying to throw it by guys, my pitch count gets up.


"But it's not that easy. It's not a macho thing. I'm not trying to strike everyone out. Maybe when I was younger I was. Not now."


Duffy insists that he doesn't care if he gets any strikeouts.


"My best game this year was against Detroit," he points out, "and I only struck out three in six innings. I'm OK with that. I wasn't trying to 'out-stuff' anyone that day.


"I'll take 27 groundouts. It's way more fun. It is fun striking people out, but I'll take eight or nine innings of groundouts over strikeouts. Really."


There's another reason Duffy says he doesn't try anymore to strike everyone out -- it's a waste of a valuable resource. Namely, the Royals' defense.


"The thing is, with our defense, it really makes sense to get guys to put it in play," Duffy says. "We've got great defensive guys all around from Esky (Alcides Escobar) to Moose (Mike Moustakas) to everyone in the outfield. Every position is solid defensively, so it makes sense to get the ball to them, so to speak."


To do that, Duffy believes it's a matter of being able to repeat his delivery, something he struggled with prior to his surgery last year. It has also been a struggle during his recovery.


"I'm getting closer," he says. "I think I made compensations before the surgery just because of the arm issue. And now, I'm getting used to having a stronger arm and that takes adjustments. When I can get a consistent delivery, my command will be way better.


"I'm going to be a beast this off-season. I'm going to get in great shape again. I wasn't able to lift any weights after the surgery and I think I came into spring training at 195 pounds. I'm normally at 215, but I wasn't able to strengthen my upper body. Now I can.


"You'll see a new me next year."


You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.