Tuesday night was our last chance to see Danny Duffy throw this year. With the rookie approaching 150 innings on the season between Omaha and Kansas City – Duffy’s career high and most since he threw 126 in High-A ball in 2009 – the Royals rightly decided to shut him down for the rest of September. As a final start, it was a good one, I suppose. Although it was decidedly Duffy…

6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO

Modest strikeout numbers, but one suspects it could (and should) have been higher… Too many walks… Managable hit total… And he pitched into the seventh inning for just the fourth time in 20 starts.

His Game Score was 54, which was tied for his fourth highest score of the year. Overall, not a bad performance for the swan song of ’11.

Since this was to be Duffy’s final start in 2011, I guess Ned Yost figured he’d throw away the pitch count clicker (or whatever they use to track pitches in the dugout.) Entering Tuesday’s game, Duffy had surpassed 100 pitches in a start just seven times with his high-water mark coming in a start against Detroit in early August when he tossed 105 pitches. Frankly, the Royals and Yost did a good job of managing the young pitcher. For some reason, Duffy was back in the game in the seventh even though he had matches his career high for pitches through six full frames.

It was Hillman-esque.

Sorry, I just don’t see the reasoning behind letting a young starter begin an inning after he’d thrown 105 pitches. Especially somone like Duffy, who has shown an extreme tendency to nibble at times and has had extreme difficulty managing his pitch count. Unless you’re willing to let him throw 130 pitches, why bother in that situation? And more importantly, why do you handle him in a particular manner for 19 starts, but suddenly decide to change the plans for start 20?

If we know anything about Duffy’s 2011 season, one of his goals for next year should be to pace himself during each start. His velocity map from last night’s start is a prime example where he hit his peak velocity in the second inning. From that point on, he had difficulty consistently matching his speeds from his first two frames.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll say it again… I do think Duffy can figure out how to accomplish this. The reason is, although he was unable to match his velocity of his first 40 pitches with his final 80, he did settle into a groove where he was throwing a consistent 92 mph. Even with a season-high number of pitches. Seems to me that it’s just a matter of maturity and strength for him to build the kind of repitoire where he can maintain something close to a peak velocity for an entire start.

Of course, Duffy will also have to figure out how to cut down on the walks. His final tally on the season was 4.4 BB/9 which is just way too high. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that mark would be the highest among starting pitchers in both leagues. Again, that goes back to his tendency to nibble. It just seemed like he’d get two strikes on the batter, and then he’d abandon his aggressive game plan that got him to that point in the count for something a little more… tricky, I guess. Like a called third strike on the corner was what he was fishing for in that situation. No clue why.

Overall, although his first season in the big leagues wasn’t what we expected, Duffy has certainly shown some promise. I’m more than comfortable with him in the front end of the rotation for 2012 and beyond.