KANSAS CITY - After more than a year of rehab following Tommy John surgery, Royals left-hander Danny Duffy is ready to make his season debut, pain-free for the first time since high school.
Duffy returned Tuesday night to Kauffman Stadium to watch Kansas City play the Minnesota Twins. He'll get the chance to step on the mound tonight when he fills in for Wade Davis, who went on the family emergency leave list after the sudden death of his stepbrother.
Duffy said he felt "better than ever," and even became sentimental while talking about the long road back from the ligament replacement surgery to his left elbow.
"I think getting back here and the road I had to take to get back here you realize how great we all have it," he said. "You take a lot for granted in life."
Duffy appeared to be on the fast track to stardom, flashing an overpowering fastball and nasty breaking ball as a rookie two years ago. He was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in six starts last season, too, before an elbow that had given him trouble for years finally let go.
Surgery on his elbow was performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum, the late Los Angeles Angels medical director, and Duffy's goal was to be back by July. He missed the target for the big leagues, but not by much, instead pitching full-time at Triple-A Omaha after finishing his rehab stint.
He was 3-0 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 appearances, including eight starts.
"I feel pretty good. I feel stronger than I've ever felt," Duffy said. "It takes a little bit more to maintain in-between starts. But I don't feel soreness and that's the first time I could say that since I was 17. It's all going really well."
Duffy said he's been paying close attention to the Royals, who'd won 12 of their last 13 entering Tuesday night, and was thrilled about pitching for a team in playoff contention.
"Even if it's for one start," he said. "I have no idea what the plan is, but I'm going to go out there and pitch tomorrow and do what I do best."
Royals manager Ned Yost said it's unlikely that Duffy will remain with the big league team, even though Davis has been the team's most inconsistent starter. Instead, Duffy will probably head back to Omaha and continue to start on regular rest.
"He's not all the way back. When he comes to spring training next year, he'll be 100 percent ready to go," Yost said. "You still have to get through that process, working your way back, and that's what he's getting started tomorrow, at least at the major league level."
In other injury news, Yost said that All-Star catcher Salvador Perez awoke Tuesday without a headache for the first time since landing on the seven-day concussion list.
Yost said if Perez is still feeling good today, he will begin light workouts. He still must pass a battery of tests but could be cleared to return Sunday against the Red Sox.
"Feels better," Yost said. "Woke up today with no headache, which is a great sign."