Duffey Presents Pleasant Dilemma For Twins
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayFor some time, many fans have wondered just what Duffey might be capable of in the bullpen. I count myself among them. There were a number of factors suggesting he could be a strong fit in the late innings – namely his collegiate experience there and his two-pitch mix. The 26-year-old's struggles as a starter last year further supported the need for a switch.
Nevertheless, the Twins maintained an outward stance heading into spring that he'd be competing for a rotation spot. It appeared he was very much in that race up until the end of March, at which point the team announced Adalberto Mejia was going to be the fifth starter while Duffey would come north in a swingman-type capacity.
As it turns out, he's been the most reliable man in the bullpen through two-plus weeks. Duffey's stellar outing on Monday extended a season-opening scoreless streak to 8.2 innings, and during that span he's allowed only five hits (all singles) and one walk while striking out seven.
If this continues, the Twins will face a decision: consider giving him another shot at starting, or stick with what's working and allow Duffey to thrive in relief?
In a sense, it feels silly to even consider messing with the good thing he has going. Duffey's signature breaking ball has been straight-up nasty and has left batters shaking their heads. But of course, that's not really anything new.
The theoretical benefit behind using him in short relief stints was that it might play up his fastball, which was coming in like a beachball last summer and routinely got crushed. That might be occurring to some extent, but it's not like Duffey is suddenly whipping 96 MPH heaters in there. In fact, from early readings, his fastball is only up by about one MPH compared to his 2016 average. And it's not like he's consistently being leveraged in the kinds of quick-hit stints that would be conducive to max effort. He has thrown multiple innings in three of his four appearances, and racked up 32 pitches in his latest.
Maybe Duffey looks so good because he's more comfortable or adept in the bullpen. It could well be the case that his arsenal is gaining efficacy when he enters as a change-of-pace, replacing a starter or another reliever. Maybe that two-pitch combo simply works better when he's not trying to get through a lineup three times.
Or, there could be other elements at play. Maybe his decision to move to the other side of the rubber against righties is paying dividends. Maybe he has made other adjustments to improve his fastball command. Or maybe he's just plain healthier and feeling better.
If his success is being driven by things of that nature, then Duffey could certainly keep it going in the rotation. While his ugly 2016 is fresh in our minds, it bears remembering that he was excellent as a starter for the Twins in 2015 and throughout the minors.
As things stand, he is in limbo to a degree. He has pitched only three times in the past 13 days. Unless and until there is a definitive commitment to him as a top setup option, his usage as a reliever figures to remain sporadic.
The manager, for his part, doesn't seem inclined to make this switch permanent. "For now," Paul Molitor said Tuesday in reference to Duffey's present assignment in the bullpen.
Personally, I'm not sure moving him back to the rotation is the right choice, particularly since Minnesota has five healthy and functional starters for the time being, plus a guy in Jose Berrios at Triple-A who is proving his readiness to step in.
But one way or another the Twins should decide on a defined role and leave it be.
What would you like to see happen with Duffey?
- Broker likes this