Duffy continues Royals’ string of quality starts

KANSAS CITY — The Royals’ starting pitching is coming around.

Another strong outing, this one by left-hander Danny Duffy, marked five straight quality starts for Kansas City’s rotation. Duffy went seven innings and gave up just four hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out seven in his longest outing of 2019. He retired the last 11 he faced.

But reliever Jake Diekman loaded the bases with a walk, a double and a walk in the eighth with none out. And Brandon Dixon hit a sacrifice fly with one out to give the Tigers the lead and an eventual 3-2 win on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Diekman was visibly frustrated afterward and said his command was just off.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “Got myself in trouble, couldn’t get out of it.”

Diekman actually did a superb job to limit the damage to one run, going through the middle of the Tigers’ order, including a strikeout of Miguel Cabrera.

“No [consolation], because I still gave up the lead with the run,” Diekman said. “Hung a slider [to Dixon] and he hit it to right field. If it was a decent slider it could have been different, but it was a terrible pitch.”

The inning could have been different, but the double by Christin Stewart went through first baseman Ryan O’Hearn’s legs at 89 mph.

“It’s a tough play [for O’Hearn],” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Duffy’s day actually started out perilously as he walked the first two hitters. But he held the Tigers to one run in the inning.

“I just didn’t feel I could put the ball where I wanted to those first two hitters,” Duffy said. “After that, I dug around the mound a little and my landing spot was a little better. After that, I felt pretty good. I think I threw 12 balls that first inning and nine the rest of the way. I figured it out pretty well.”

The key to the outing, Duffy said, was his changeup, a pitch that used to be his signature pitch but has eluded him in recent times.

“I haven’t had it in a long time, but we’ve been working in the bullpen for a long time on it,” Duffy said. “Kudos to [pitching coach] Cal [Eldred] for sticking it out with me to instill the confidence in me.”

The Royals trailed, 1-0, in the third when Whit Merrifield led off with a double against Tigers starter Daniel Norris. Merrifield stole third with one out, but Adalberto Mondesi struck out. But Jorge Soler, who had struck out with runners on second and third and one out in the first, this time doubled high off the right-center field wall.

The Royals trailed, 2-1, in the fifth when Alex Gordon singled with one out. Gordon went to second on a groundout and scored on another two-out RBI hit by Soler, a single to right-center.

But overall, the Royals’ offense remains locked in a freezer — it has averaged just 2.3 runs per game over the past 11 contests. Wasting quality starts is adding to Yost’s frustrations.

“You just try to find ways to score some runs to make those good starts count for something,” Yost said.