The Royals entered Saturday losers of eight straight games -- a streak that, though spurred by injuries to key players, had dropped them into a tie for third place. That slump was snapped on Saturday by one Royal who has been doing his best to keep the defending champions in contention: Danny Duffy.
In Duffy's sixth start of the season (remember, he opened the year in the bullpen), he threw six shutout innings against the White Sox, striking out a career-high 10 batters while yielding just six combined hits and walks -- oh, and he posted those numbers while battling substandard mound conditions.
''I tried to shorten my stride and it might have helped me because of how bad the landing spot was," Duffy said after the start, per the Associated Press. ''It was hot and my legs were struggling and the mound was pretty chewed up."
Saturday's outing left Duffy with 38 strikeouts in 31 innings as a starter, as well as 25 hits allowed, 10 earned runs (that's a 2.90 ERA, kids), and five walks. Impressive.
So what's behind Duffy's ascendance? The oldest explanation in the baseball books: adjustments.
Duffy's most obvious tweak is cosmetic. Whereas in the past he used a full windup, bringing his hands over his head and whatnot, these days he's pitching from the stretch. That seems like a tiny, trifling alteration, but it can pay dividends.
Most starters use the stretch only when a baserunner reaches, yet that doesn't make sense -- if they're going to be pitching from the set in high-pressure situations, then why not maximize the comfort level with it by using it all the time? Recently, some starters have reached the same conclusion -- good ones, too, like Carlos Carrasco.
Duffy isn't on their level at this point, but it appears he's telling the truth when he talks about feeling more fluid and in command since making the switch.
"I don't know if I'll ever throw another pitch out of the windup, to be honest with you," Duffy said Saturday, per the Kansas City Star. "It's very simplified; it's very nice."
He entered Saturday throwing more than 70 percent of his pitches for strikes (his current single-season best is 64 percent) and generating whiffs on more than 30 percent of his swings for the first time in his big-league career. Filling up the zone while missing a ton of bats is a failsafe way to become an above-average pitcher.
The other shift in Duffy's game is comparatively small but bears mentioning. He entered Saturday having thrown 15 percent changeups in 2016 -- more than he had thrown in any other season in which he made double-digit appearances. That increased usage has came with better results, too -- last season batters swung and missed on about a quarter of his change-of-paces; this season, they've done so on more than 40 percent of those pitches. It doesn't take Greg Maddux to connect the dots between Duffy's improved command and control and his changeup's increased effectiveness.
The question, then, is whether Duffy's improvements are here to stay. You can probably bet against him continuing to be this good -- few can keep up the pace -- but there's still sufficient reason to think he should remain better than in the past.
The Royals sure hope so, because they'll need a good Duffy if they're to remain in the race until help arrives.