Duffy competing to start, but open to bullpen role
Seeking final rotation spot, KC lefty 'in the best shape of my life right now'
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When you sift through the names, there's quite a long list of possible candidates for that fifth spot in the Royals' rotation.
Hard-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura is the early favorite, but there's also Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Chris Dwyer and even dark-horse guys like Brad Penny, P.J. Walters and Everett Teaford. (Hot prospect Kyle Zimmer has been moved to the slow track for now.)
When it all shakes out, how about this for one of the outcomes: Duffy as a left-handed part in the bullpen?
Yep, that's the same Duffy who's always been regarded as a big-time starter of the future. Yet, sliding into a relief role is something that even Duffy has considered.
"There's a lot of really deserving candidates and I've heard a lot of talk about the bullpen and I've thought that my game would fit out there for a long time, too," he said. "So wherever they may put me, I'm ready for it."
Duffy, 25, was on the rehabilitation trail last season after Tommy John surgery reconstructed his valuable left elbow on June 13, 2012. He eventually got back to the Major League level and made five starts late last season.
He did all right, too, with a 2-0 record and a 1.85 ERA. Heck, on Aug. 16 at Detroit, Duffy had a no-hitter going with two outs in the sixth inning until Miguel Cabrera -- who else? -- singled. Duffy got the third out and was pulled, but earned a 2-1 victory over the formidable Justin Verlander.
He went back to Triple-A Omaha for another start before returning for three more starts for Kansas City. Then, after Sept. 7, he was shut down for the season and eventually went on the disabled list with what was termed a flexor strain.
"It was just a little inflamed, I didn't have a strain," Duffy said. "It was just a little inflammation and they erred on the side of caution. I never had any structural damage or anything."
Now Duffy, who threw a batting practice session in camp Monday, is feeling good.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I've prepared myself the whole offseason to come in here and give them a full season. I feel like I'm ready for that. I'm in the best shape of my life right now. We'll see, I'm ready to go."
Duffy broke into the KC rotation on May 18, 2011, and made 20 starts that season with a 4-8 record and 5.64 ERA. In his sixth start of 2012, he injured his elbow on May 13 and underwent reconstructive surgery a month later.
And now: "It's all good, everything's good, all reports are good right now," he said.
Of the 121 games that Duffy has pitched as a professional, he's relieved in only four. But he thinks he could handle the transition from starting as teammate Luke Hochevar did so well last year.
"It's a lot easier said than done. Hoch did a heck of a job last year. He made the transition look really easy," Duffy said. "I know it's a lot of work and it's a different approach but I feel like my game could really fit out there if it really got to that point. But right now, I'm trying to win that fifth spot. But wherever they put me, wherever they think I fit best, wherever they think I could help the team most, I'm ready for it."
Of course, when you sift through the names that are angling for the seven or eight bullpen spots, there doesn't seem to be much of an opening. Let's see, there's closer Greg Holland along with Hochevar, Davis and Teaford (if they don't start), Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, Francisley Bueno, Donnie Joseph, Jon Rauch and two or three other guys.
Manager Ned Yost anticipates his toughest decisions will be in the bullpen.
"Here's our focus: At the end of Spring Training, we're going to put together the best pitching staff that we can assemble," Yost said. "If that means that one of these young guys, we feel, makes our pitching staff better in the bullpen, we're going to do it."
At this point, who knows -- that young guy could be Ventura as well as Duffy. But Yost can see Duffy riding the bullpen boards.
"Danny's a competitor, Danny can pitch anywhere," Yost said. "Danny comes in like all our pitchers do with the right mindset. They're going to compete and they want to win."
And Yost can envision Duffy as being anything from a long reliever to a situational lefty, a reliever with versatility.
"With his stuff, yeah, he could be Hochevar," Yost said.
Duffy, if he fails to win the fifth starting job, is certainly willing.
"It's never a problem to have too many arms," he said. "The skipper will shift it around like he knows best. I have total trust they know where I could fit best and help out the most. Wherever I may end up, it'll be a good thing."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.