The Kansas City bullpen is coming off its longest scoreless outing in 15 games, but it might need to go longer in its next contest in Cleveland.
Danny Duffy's increasing pitch count hasn't allowed him to go deep lately, and it sounds like efficiency will be his focus Wednesday night as the Royals try for a series lead over the Indians.
The Royals (85-59) evened the four-game set with Tuesday's 2-0 win, and the bullpen gave up a hit in 2 2/3 innings for its top outing since allowing a hit in 3 2/3 scoreless on Aug. 29. That was also the last time their relievers went consecutive contests without allowing a run.
Royals relievers have a 5.86 ERA and .838 OPS against in 50 2/3 innings since with the club going 5-10. The rotation has been about as bad with a 5.83 mark.
"We needed that," manager Ned Yost said. "We needed a good pitching performance. We needed to get to the bullpen in the seventh inning with the lead."
Duffy (7-7, 4.14 ERA) gave up two runs and three hits with three walks in five innings of Friday's 14-8 loss in Baltimore but avoided the decision. He needed 101 pitches and has thrown 17.8 per inning over his last seven starts, which is higher than any qualifying pitcher's season mark.
The left-hander isn't getting lit up because of it -- he's 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA in eight starts since the start of August -- but he's made it through seven innings once in seven outings. It's normally not a problem with a trusted bullpen, but that's changed.
"That's on me. I need to go deeper," Duffy told MLB's official website.
His one start against the Indians this season was maybe his worst; he surrendered four runs and six hits in an inning of a 10-3 home loss on May 6. Carlos Santana is 8 for 20 with a home run and triple off Duffy, but Lonnie Chisenhall is 1 for 8 with five strikeouts.
Duffy opposes Danny Salazar, whose struggles have shown up more in the run column.
In mid-August, Salazar (12-8, 3.57) was becoming the pitcher teams wanted to avoid in a series with the Indians, going 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in a four-start stretch. In four since, the right-hander is 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA and .322 opponent batting average.
The 25-year-old has also struggled against Kansas City, surrendering at least four runs in his last three outings to fall to 3-4 with a 5.40 ERA in seven career starts. Eric Hosmer is 7 for 15 with two home runs and three doubles, but Omar Infante (1 for 15), Salvador Perez (3 for 19) and Mike Moustakas (3 for 17) have all struggled.
The Royals have won three straight series in Cleveland, and the latest also happens to be the last time the Indians (71-72) dropped a set at Progressive Field. Kansas City took two of three from July 27-29, but the Indians are 13-4 at home dating to their win to conclude that meeting.
Tuesday's shutout followed an offensive surge at home, but the Indians are still averaging 7.1 runs and hitting .333 over the 17-game home span.
Francisco Lindor has led the way with a .444 average, but individual performances are taking a backseat. Cleveland's wild-card hopes took a slight hit, spoiling Josh Tomlin's complete game.
"We need wins, and that's the bottom line," Tomlin said.
The Royals were limited to four hits, but Alex Rios homered for the second time in five games after hitting two in his first 84.