Over the last few days up here in the loge level, we could hear the unsettling clamor surrounding the Royals’ starting pitching assignment for Game One of the ALDS. Many seated behind me would not let go of the thought that it should have been left-hander Danny Duffy. So it turns out those curmudgeons are all smiles now. Duffy didn’t get the start; instead he landed a lead role in one of the final scenes of the opening win.
As fate would have it, I spoke with Duffy six days ago, seeking a self-scouting report in his own words. No sense of keeping it in the .doc files for down the road.
Duffy’s lone scoreless inning of work looked like this, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Kole Calhoun saw all fastballs and on the seventh down and away he singled to left field. Not bad considering left-handed hitters went .137/.225/.161 against Duffy in the regular season.
Here’s Duffy’s description of his fastball approach and grip:
“If a guy’s an early hacker, I will maybe mix in a two-seam every now and then. But I try to just keep it simple, I attack with my four-seam and if I can't find the command with that, I'll see what I can do with the sinker,” said the 26-year-old. “I try to line my two fingers up with the two seams on the back side of the horseshoe and I move my thumb up if I want more movement, on to the side and on to the equator of the ball.”
Mike Trout saw all heaters as well, sharply hitting the third to shortstop for a force out. With one out, Albert Pujols saw Duffy’s first non-fastball after 10 in a row, when Duffy received what appeared to be a generous strike call on an 83 mph changeup. The future Hall of Famer then couldn’t handle a fastball that added about 10 mph to the previous pitch and popped up about 30 feet up the first base line. The showdown was a winner for Duffy thanks to the effectiveness of the first-pitch changeup.
This is how Duffy saw his changeup at the end of the 2014 regular season:
“The changeup’s been a little inconsistent, but it's kept people off of my fastball when I need it to. I've thrown it a lot better to lefties than to righties, which is weird. I haven't ever been able to throw my changeups to lefties anyway, so this is a good thing,” said the Lompoc, California native. “Watching Shields and Vargas, what they do with their changeups has definitely taught me a lot about how to use it to people who are batting to your arm side. I've been able to backfoot a couple of lefties this year. It's been really effective. Righties tend to stay on it more, but I try to still use it and not be leery of it, but I think that's kind of been my one weakness.”
The changeup grip:
“It's a circle change. I try to line up my middle and my third finger on the seams like I do on my two-seam. I try to put my pinkie on the equator of the ball and then hold it as loose as I can. Some people like a tighter grip with it and if it’s looser normally it’s more of a finesse pitch. But it has a lot of ‘dead fish’ action to it. It’s been effective throughout my entire career, this year being probably the weakest that it’s been. Lastly, I try to make sure that my pinkie finger is my last finger to touch the ball as I’m releasing it. I think that what creates the ball fading away from a righty and in to a lefty.”
With Trout still on first and two outs in the 10th, Duffy threw Howie Kendrick the only three curveballs he would show in the inning. After two fastballs and with the count 1-1, Duffy’s first biting bender was 76 mph, crossed the entire plate before being caught inside by Salvador Perez, running the count to 1-2. The next pitch (fastball) was fouled back and Duffy’s second curveball was a hanger up and away. With a 2-2 count, the only other changeup of the inning wasn’t a particularly good one, up and away. Kendrick fouled it off. The inning was wrapped in a bow by a wicked breaking ball that was 79 mph and dove hard under the bat of the right-handed hitter. It ended up inches above the dirt inside. Nasty.
Duffy’s curveball as he sees it:
“Keys for my breaking ball are letting it go out in front and not trying to make it too dirty, which means just not trying to throw it too hard. Sometimes I will bounce it on 0-2 and try to maybe get a swing on a ball in the dirt. I try to keep the same slot as my fastball and don't try to do too much with it is the main thing.”
The TJ surgery patient stays on the side of the baseball with his breaking ball:
“I am (on the side of the baseball) for the most part, but I still try to let it go out front like a fastball. When I try to put spin on it is right at the end. My key finger is my middle one, it puts the most pressure on the ball and I try to anchor it with my index finger. It's not like a knuckle curve or anything; I try to follow the seams on it from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my middle finger. It's been really consistent this year. We changed the grip on it to a little more over the top and a little bit looser, but this year I've got it pretty well anchored in my hand.”
There are times he bullies right-handed hitters way inside off the plate with the curveball, trying to make them unsettled:
“It is by intent. We've gotten a few righties, more burner guys that are shorter to the ball. Guys with long swings can kind of stay on it. Sometimes I'll throw a slide step in there and maybe get around it too much by accident. It's by design for the most part, I try to get in on people's hands and I've gotten quite a few slow grounders to third with it that are just off the fist to righties.”
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