Danny Duffy was working on arguably his best year and then got traded to the team he grew up rooting for. But the storybook ending never happened, with a flexor strain in his left forearm ending his season three months early.
In the final season of a five-year contract with the Royals, the veteran left-hander had a career-best strikeout rate (25.8 percent), plus his best ERA (2.51) and best FIP (3.40) since since 2013.
Duffy missed five weeks in May and June with a flexor strain. After averaging just under six innings per start before the injury, he only surpassed four innings once in four starts before landing back on the injured list in mid-July. Two weeks later, he was traded to the Dodgers for a player to be named later.
Duffy was such a huge Dodgers fan growing up that he was devastated at nine years old when Mike Piazza was traded to the Marlins.
“I cried my eyes out when he got traded,” Duffy recalled in August. “That can kind of paint a picture of how I felt about the Dodgers growing up. Now, having it be full circle and being able to play for them, I’m walking a little bit higher right now. It’s just crazy, man. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”
The hope in Los Angeles was that Duffy would be able to join the Dodgers pitching staff at some point down the stretch, possibly in December. The role would be determined by how his rehab went.
“Ideally, he keeps feeling good, and the trajectory is such that we can build him up to be a starter,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said after the trade. “If not, depending on what we learn over the next few weeks, we think he could make an impact out of the pen as well.”
The timing of Duffy’s return was still unclear, but when he was transferred to the 60-day injured list on August 9, that meant the earliest he could pitch for the Dodgers was September 15, with only 16 games remaining on the regular season schedule.
But he wasn’t ready by then, especially after a setback in a bullpen session on September 10.
“Outside of any type of miracle, for him to impact us this year, it’s going to be tough,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Though Duffy never pitched in a game with the Dodgers, he was assigned number 23.
In December, Duffy told Andy McCullough at The Athletic that he thought the injury might have forced him to retire. But he got a silver living of sorts in the diagnosis:
The doctor determined Duffy’s ulnar collateral ligament did not need repair. Duffy underwent surgery to fix his flexor tendon in late October. The free agent left-hander plans to start a throwing program in March and intends to be ready to pitch by June.
The book was closed on the Duffy deal on October 20, when the Dodgers sent pitcher Zach Willeman, a 25-year-old who pitched for Double-A Tulsa in 2021, to Kansas City as the player to be named later.
Stats: 2.51 ERA, 4.24 xERA, 3.40 FIP, 1.213 WHIP, 61 IP, 65 K, 22 BB, 2.1 bWAR, 1.6 fWAR;
did not pitch with Dodgers
Salary: $15.5 million (reportedly all paid by Royals)
Duffy is a free agent.