Duffy makes his return, but should it be in the bullpen?

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The Royals, one night after blowing a chance to end the Indians historic winning streak, snapped it at 22 games with a 4-3 win Friday Night. They lost again yesterday. The Twins, meanwhile, lost both nights, and the Royals (73-75), trail the Twins for the No. 2 Wild Card by four games with 13 games left.

Today, with a chance to split the series against the lava-hot Indians, Ned Yost has his most talented starting pitcher Danny Duffy returning from the DL (his second stint) for the first time since August 26. With his return, Yost will employ a 6-man rotation. Ian Kennedy, who missed his last start (shoulder fatigue) will re-enter. Duffy (8-8), who haw started 21 games, posting a 3.78 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 131 innings, will be on a pitch count of 60-65 pitches to not “aggravate” the injury. Much like 2013, needing a minor miracle to make the playoffs, I have to pose the question…why even put Duffy in the rotation. Or…why even pitch him at all?

Duffy, who pitched a second bullpen session on Friday, said he felt “really good.” His first came on Monday, where he met with the press after and clearly stated he was hurting and he would not be 100% for the rest of the season. He said he would pitch with pain for the remainder of the season and “take care of it” in the offseason. When asked if that meant surgery, he was non-committal (if he DID NOT need surgery, you think one would quickly deny the possibility of surgery). He referred to his teammates – Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain – who were playing injured. Although it wasn’t said, there has to be the underlying factor that he wants to play with the looming free agents (Eric Hosmer, Moose, Cain, Alcides Escobar) one last time before they walk out of our lives, forever).

The Royals bullpen issues are well-documented. Kelvin Herrera, once a dominant set-up man when the Royals were sending out one cyborg after another, is not the same this year. With a 4.56 ERA, 1.43 WHIP – WELL ABOVE career norms (2.88, 1.16) – Herrera, who blew the save on Friday (his fifth of the year), relinquished the closer’s role after blowing a save on Sept. 7. He has not earned a save since August 16. The bridge to Herrera – before he lost the role – has also been bumpy. Joakim Soria, who was last season’s whipping boy, has been better this (3.96 ERA, 59 strikeouts and 16 walks with 16 holds in 50 frames), but he also has seven blown saves. Scott Alexander has four saves – including three 1-out versions, but was saddled with the loss in Wednesday’s home loss. Brandon Maurer locked down his one save since Herrera was demoted, but he has been awful since coming over from San Diego (8.34 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP through 18.1 innings).

While this is a moot point because it won’t happen, why not put Duffy in a late-inning role for the final two weeks of the season? That could be the closer or the Andrew Miller fireman role – come in when you need big outs, whether that the seventh inning, or the ninth. While the sample size is not large, Duffy has excelled in a bullpen role throughout his MLB career. In 28 appearances spread among three different seasons, he has a 2.08 ERA, 1.038 WHIP and a 11.4 K/9, as well as 1 save with a 1-1 record. Already on a limited pitch count, he could let it fly and save his arm until it’s “taken care of” in the offseason.

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