KANSAS CITY -- Danny Duffy, the Royals' prize left-handed pitching prospect, is still searching. For his first victory and for the strike zone.
Duffy was dealt his second straight loss on Wednesday night as the Toronto Blue Jays held off the surging Royals, 9-8, to disappoint most of the 12,152 fans at Kauffman Stadium. It was the Royals' 14th loss in the 18 games they've played since their last back-to-back victories.
"Duff went out again with good stuff, just battled his command all night long," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
After a lengthy scoring drought -- just 11 runs in six games -- the Royals have scored 13 in the last two nights and lost both games to the Blue Jays.
"When you put up eight runs, you should win the ballgame," Billy Butler said. "Offensively, we feel like we did a good job, but we just couldn't pull it out. We're starting to put some runs on the board again now, but it's just not enough."
Butler's three-run homer in the eighth inning gave the Royals a huge shot of hope. He connected against Blue Jays reliever Octavio Dotel, crashing a 3-1 pitch over the left-field bullpen. That followed a two-out walk by Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francoeur's single, both off left-hander Mark Rzepczynski.
"It was middle in. He was trying to challenge me," Butler said. "Obviously, when they're up by so many runs, they're going to make me hit it and not put me on with a walk."
Alex Gordon further brought the crowd to life in the ninth inning when his double chased home Brayan Pena, who had singled against Casey Janssen. But Melky Cabrera lined out to shortstop, ending the game.
The 22-year-old Duffy, in five starts, is 0-2 with a 5.55 ERA. In 24 1/3 innings, he has issued 17 walks against 18 strikeouts and given up 29 hits.
"I am throwing pitches that are close to the plate, but they're just not in the zone, so to speak," Duffy said. "So it is what it is. I'm just going to have to learn to go after people a lot more."
Duffy had a 4-2 lead after three innings, courtesy of Cabrera's three-run homer in the third inning. The Royals loaded the bases with none out as Chris Getz singled up the middle, Pena walked and Alcides Escobar bunted safely. Gordon knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly and Cabrera unloaded a 417-foot shot over the right-field bullpen and into the seats.
All that came against right-hander Carlos Villanueva, a former reliever making his fourth start this season. He recovered nicely and went seven innings to boost his record to 4-0.
The Blue Jays picked up single runs off Duffy in the first inning and the third. The big bang, though, came in the fourth after Aaron Hill had a leadoff single and Rajai Davis walked. Jayson Nix, the Blue Jays' ninth-place batter, hit a three-run shot over the left-field wall for a 5-4 lead.
Duffy got through that inning but it was his last. In four innings, he'd piled up 96 pitches and only 54 of them were in the strike zone. So that was enough; he gave up eight hits and four walks and the five runs were the most scored against him in his five starts.
"I just got too nibbly, I just got too fine with it," Duffy said. "It happens, it's just frustrating."
Right-hander Nate Adcock took over and whizzed through five straight batters, striking out three. Then he walked Mike McCoy, the transgression that irritated him the most.
"The two-out walk, definitely the two-out walk," Adcock said. Those things can't happen at this level. You can get away with that stuff at A-ball. [Here] they make you pay for it. That's what happened."
Sure enough, Corey Patterson singled, taking second as right fielder Francoeur threw to third base. That prompted an intentional walk to Jose Bautista to load the bases and pitching to Adam Lind, a decision that Yost said put him between a rock and a hard place.
"You've got arguably the best hitter in the American League coming up, leading the league in home runs (20), tough to strike out. You've got him up with a base open," Yost said. "Then you've got another one of the top 15 hitters in the league. Left-handed and Nate's matchup numbers are good against left-handers (.241), so I figured I'd have the second-best hitter on their team beat us instead of the best hitter. And Nate got a pitch up."
Lind blasted it 404 feet over the right-center field wall to give the Blue Jays a 9-4 lead. The grand slam was his 11th homer.
After Pena singled with one out in the ninth, Yost let .209-hitting Escobar bat for himself instead of using a pinch-hitter. Escobar looked at strike three. Naturally, Yost was asked if he should have done so.
"Not right now," Yost said. "I'm not going to do it. I don't care what anybody says I'm not going to do it. This is a kid that I think is going to hit one day, I want him to have as many at-bats as he can get because there's going to be a time when we're in line to win a championship and I want him to be able to handle himself in those situations."
Yost pointed out that even if the Royals had tied the score, he'd have been deprived of Escobar's fielding talents at shortstop. Yost recalled he went through similar second-guessing as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I went through this with J.J. Hardy," Yost said. "He was hitting about .170 and everybody was screaming why we not pinch-hitting for him? How much longer are we going to go with a guy hitting .170? And the next year he hit 25 homers and made the All-Star team. So, I've got a little bit of an idea of what I'm doing here."
The hope is that painful lessons in the present will be traded for happy results in the future.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.