Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy has been placed on the 10-day IL retroactive to May 14th. Duffy, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career, is dealing with a left forearm flexor strain.
The left-handed pitcher and has dealt with this type of issue before. Typically, he gives it some rest, and then he’s good to go. However, nine years ago, Duffy was given some bad news. He was told he needed to have Tommy John surgery.
Unfortunately, this surgery has become commonplace among pitchers in Major League Baseball over the past decade. A torn UCL in a pitcher’s throwing arm is a devastating injury. Fortunately, the good news is science and medical communities continue to advance in their technology and procedures. Tommy John surgery isn’t a career-ending injury like it could have been in previous decades.
So, let’s take a quick dive into Duffy’s history with the Royals, pre-Tommy John surgery and then beyond.
Duffy was drafted by the Royals out of high school in the third round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He quickly made his presence known in his rookie season with Class-A affiliate, Burlington. He finished the season with an 8-4 record in 17 starts. His ERA was a stellar 2.20. He was rewarded with the honor of being named Burlington Pitcher of the Year.
In 2009, he moved to the Class-A Advanced Carolina League, starting for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. He finished that season with a 9-3 record along with a 2.98 ERA and was a Carolina League All-Star. He was also given the stage to represent the Royals in the All-Star Futures game in 2009. His career trajectory was moving along nicely.
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Duffy decided to retire from baseball after being invited to Spring Training with the Royals in 2010. The pressures of baseball and life brought Duffy to a place where he needed a mental break. Several years later, Duffy would acknowledge his struggle with anxiety, depression and panic disorder. He has since become an advocate for better mental health support in baseball and professional sports in general. He has also spoken out against clubhouse bullying and hoping for progress in the sport in those ways.
Luckily for the Royals organization, and the fans, Duffy was able to overcome some of the issues he faced and decided to return to the sport he loved to play. He would move up through the system to Class AA and join the Northwest Arkansas Naturals by the end of 2010 where Duffy would notch a 5-2 record with a 2.95 ERA.
His rise through the system continued in 2011 when he joined the Royals' Class-AAA affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. Duffy started the season with a 3-1 record and a 3.00 ERA in seven starts before being called up to Kansas City.
Duffy has been a Royals organizational staple ever since. He was part of the “championship wave” of players, along with guys like Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Yordano Ventura among others who were traded before they could make an impact at the big-league level. He finished the 2011 season with a 4-8 record in 20 starts and a 5.64 ERA.
Before the 2012 season, Duffy excited the Royals fan base with a simple tweet, “Bury me a Royal." Duffy won a job in the starting rotation during spring training in 2012 and made six starts before tearing his UCL and getting the Tommy John surgery. Everyone was devastated, from the organization to fans, to Duffy himself. He had already been through a lot and he wasn’t going to give up on himself. He worked hard to get back to an elite level where he could be a big part of the Royals organization as they made their first playoff run in a generation.
Between 2013 and 2015 he would bounce back and forth, first, between Omaha and Kansas City and then between the bullpen and the starting rotation. While his role was continuously changing, he was a big part of the locker room culture that lead the Royals to back-to-back American League pennants, which eventually culminated in a World Series win to close out the 2015 season.
Duffy started 2016 in the bullpen but was re-inserted into the starting rotation and compiled his best season as a Royal. He finished the year with a 12-3 record, 3.51 ERA, and had the team’s highlight performance of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 11. Duffy set a single-game Royals’ record with a 16 strikeout performance, an effort that Royals fans will remember forever. That game and moment in Duffy’s career was immortalized via bobblehead at a giveaway the following season.
Duffy was given a five-year contract extension with the Royals before the 2017 season and was the Opening Day starter for the team. His season was hit-and-miss due to injuries and he could never regain the momentum he had from the 2016 season again.
There were trade rumors before the 2018 season and he once again referred to his “Bury me a Royal” moniker, hinting that he didn’t want to be traded and wanted to remain a Kansas City Royal for life. He struggled with his command throughout the season and finished with an 8-12 record along with a 4.88 ERA.
Duffy continued to struggle in 2019, with injuries and on the mound. He finished the season with a 7-6 record and a 4.34 ERA. In a pandemic plagued 2020 season, he pitched decently in 12 games with a 4-4 record and a 4.95 ERA.
All of this led to this season, Duffy’s last under contract with the Royals. Duffy decided to change his jersey number from 41 to 30, to honor his late friend and former Royals pitcher, Yordano Ventura. Duffy’s season couldn’t have started any better.
He gave the Royals six innings of two-hit baseball and didn’t give up a run in his season debut. His stellar start to the season continued all the way up until his last start, which was on May 12 against the Tigers. He's recorded a quality start in four of his first seven starts and has only allowed more than three runs once. His ERA before landing on the injured list was sitting at a brilliant 1.94.
Even more than the success on the field early in the season, Duffy has taken on a mentor role with the next wave of young pitchers that are in Kansas City. Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and others have mentioned how great it is having Duffy around to lean on and answer any questions they have. He is the leader this young team needs.
Despite rumors of potentially another lost season for Duffy, there is good news for Royals fans. Duffy appeared in a press conference and made it known that he didn’t need Tommy John surgery and that he wasn’t retiring.
Whatever happens with Duffy the rest of the 2021 season, his impact on the club will be felt for another generation. He is in the final year of his contract, but if he can bounce back and close out the 2021 season on a high note, don’t be surprised if we see Duffy return as part of the Royals in 2022. Seeing Duffy as a leader on another Royals roster that could potentially be a contender would be a gratifying conclusion to a roller-coaster career.
While the future is still unknown, I wouldn’t bury Duffy just yet. Whenever the time comes for him to hang up his cleats, it’s nearly a guarantee he will do it in a Royals uniform. Don’t take my word, take his: “Bury me a Royal."