KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals left-hander Danny Duffy fully admits there was a time when he was a little out of control on the mound. When he got mad, he showed it — especially vocally. And everyone could hear it.
These days, Duffy still gets mad. He just hides it better, thanks to a trick he learned from James Shields.
Shields is legendary for barking obscenities into his glove. Now, Duffy muffles his anger, too.
"Better to do it into your glove than to let lip-readers see what you’re saying," Duffy says, smiling. "I’m very aware of how things look to people. You got to keep it PG.
"Earlier in my career I tended to let the anger get the best of me, and it could offend people."
Not that Duffy shuts off his emotions entirely. Shields also tutored Duffy to keep his inner fire.
"(Shields) taught me a lot about how to use my emotions," Duffy said. "He said that you can try to be more stone-faced and stoic, but don’t lose your edge. He’s the one who told me not to lose those emotions, but just channel them better to help you.
"He just said, ‘Be you. If you’re mad or whatever, don’t change. Be you. But don’t let it affect you in a bad way.’"
He’s learned how to harness that emotion in him. It’s working.
Royals manager Ned Yost
Another trick Duffy has learned is that whenever he feels he’s about to lose control, he simply steps off the pitching rubber, walks to the back of the mound, takes a deep breath, grabs the rosin bag and tosses it back down.
He collects himself and resumes his duties. Call it a quick self-help adjustment.
"It definitely has helped," Duffy says. "I think when I’ve gotten in trouble in the past, it’s because I’d always rush to the next pitch. I don’t do that anymore.
"I just think taking deep breaths and stepping back helps. I still get angry, but it helps to step back and focus again. I think I started picking up the rosin bag just because it’s there and it gives me something to do when I’m back there."
Thursday night, when Duffy overmatched the Indians through seven shutout innings, he used that maneuver several times.
"I caught myself doing that a bunch," he says. "I threw one pitch, a slider that I thought was a strike — it was up, actually. But I was still mad, and I went to the back of the mound and just calmed down a little because (the call) had affected me.
"Then I was fine. Little things can be your ticket in this league. Whatever works for you."
Manager Ned Yost has seen other pitchers use the same trouble-shooting technique.
"(Former Brewers pitching coach) Mike Maddux made a lot of sense when I asked him about why pitchers were doing that," Yost recalls. "I’d see a pitcher walk off the mound like that and I’d ask him, ‘What the hell is he doing out there?’ And Mike would say, ‘He’s gathering conviction.’"
Duffy certainly has discovered his conviction lately.
Since June 1, Duffy has posted a 1.86 ERA and opponents are hitting a meager .197 off him. Unfortunately, he is just 3-5 during this stretch as the Royals’ offense has abandoned him. In each of those five losses, the Royals have scored either one or zero runs.
Duffy shrugs off the lack of support.
"My job is to shut the other team out," he says.
And that’s exactly what Duffy did against Cleveland on Thursday, which gave the Royals a chance to eventually win the game in extra innings.
On display that night was Duffy’s newfound slider, which he has been using in place of his curveball for months.
"It’s just a tighter, more effective pitch," he says. "In this game it’s about what you can do with your arsenal. Like Thursday night, I think I threw four changeups the whole night and the rest were sliders and fastballs.
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"It’s whatever you can throw for strikes. It’s nice when you have a day like that."
And Yost believes there will be plenty more of those ahead.
"He’s learned how to repeat his mechanics," Yost says, "and he’s learned how to harness that emotion in him. It’s working."