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Suddenly, ‘baseball-old’ Tyler Duffey is elder statesman of Twins bullpen

With Taylor Rogers’ traded to San Diego, big right-hander is the longest-tenured member of the entire pitching staff

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The big right-hander from Rice is part of a small group that remains part of the team’s homegrown core with Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler
Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

When spring training started last month, there were a lot of questions for Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers, who suddenly were the two elder statesmen of the Twins bullpen.

“We showed up and all of the sudden we were getting a lot of questions, and you look around and you realize, ‘It happened,’ ” Duffey said.

Now Rogers is gone, traded to San Diego in the late deal that brought pitchers Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan to Minnesota, and Duffey is the last man standing, the longest-tenured pitcher, bullpen or otherwise, on the team. There are older pitchers — recent additions Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Joe Smith among them — but none has been around Minnesota as long.

“You don’t see it coming,” he said. “It just kind of happens.”

Well, yes and no. Duffey, 31, has survived a mammoth overhaul of the pitching staff because he has been so reliable since he was moved from the rotation to the bullpen before the 2019 season — a 2.69 earned-run average in 144 appearances with 174 strikeouts in 144.0 innings pitched.

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“Wherever you need him, he’s available,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He goes out there and pitches when things get tough and things get challenging, and he’s been able to handle all of that very well. There’s no reason we wouldn’t look to him to throw some of the final innings to these games, but he’s also going to pitch in some other spots, too.

“With Duff, he’s proven himself to us time and time again, and I think he’s capable of anything in the bullpen. And so we’ll look to him a lot.”

The big right-hander from Rice (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) is part of a small group that remains part of the team’s homegrown core with Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Duffey, Buxton and new shortstop Carlos Correa were all taken in the 2012 amateur draft. He’s making $3.8 million on a one-year deal in his last season season of arbitration.

“I tell people at home, ‘I’m baseball old now,’ ” Duffey said. “They say, ‘But you’re just a kid!’ and I tell them, ‘When I go there, I’m not.’ ”

FLAME THROWER

It was a pitcher’s day in the season opener for the Twins and Mariners on Friday, a 2-1 victory for last season’s Cy Young Award winner, Seattle’s Robbie Ray, on a cold day at Target Field.

Yet the most electric performance of the day came for Twins rookie Jhoan Duran.

Making his major league debut, Duran pitched two innings and fanned four while throwing three of the fastest pitches of the day in all major league games — 100.7 mph, 100.3 mph and 100.1 mph. Perhaps more impressive was his poise.

Starting the fifth inning with a 2-0 deficit, Duran allowed the first two runners to reach base on singles and moved them to second and third with a wild pitch. Then he struck out the side to keep the Twins in the game. He got Mitch Haniger swinging at a 99 mph sinker, Eugenio Suarez swinging at a 95 mph sinker and Jarred Kelenic looking at an 87mph curve.

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The Twins were ecstatic.

“He has taken to a lot of the things we’ve talked about, but you can only talk and mock things out and simulate them so much,” Baldelli said. “It’s different when the game starts and there are people in the stands and you’re facing the other side and it counts.”

Responding to a jam is difficult for any pitcher, and the Twins were impressed by the way Duran, 24, recovered. He became just the first Twins pitcher to throw at least two scoreless innings and strike out four batters since Mike Walters fanned four in 4.2 innings against Cleveland on July 8, 1983.

“He responded the way that we would have wanted,” Baldelli said. “He kept his cool. He just focused on making pitches and he found himself.”

BRIEFLY

Luis Arraez, who hit a big pinch-hit single in the ninth inning on Friday, started at third base on Saturday and homered in his first-at bat off Seattle starter Logan Gilbert.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Jhoan Duran (59) delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning on Friday at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Nick Wosika/USA TODAY Sports

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TWINS
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