Tyler Duffey Shines In Spotlight Start
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsDuffey’s final numbers were not eye-popping, but the right-hander’s stuff has rarely been described as eye-popping, unless that particular eye appreciates a knee-buckling curveball. But this afternoon, Duffey’s fastball placement kept the Blue Jays hitters honest - and guessing. Whether it was a generous outside corner or unexpected movement inside, the mostly right-handed hitting Blue Jays watched a lot of strikes. Duffey took advantage of the fortunate counts, limiting a lineup topped with Troy Tulowitski, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales to four hits over five innings.
Five days ago, it had been Mejia’s turn to impress while Duffey pitched in a minor league game. Mejia’s eight strikeouts in 3.2 innings certainly raised some eyebrows. Five days before that, each had thrown three innings versus Miami with Duffey getting the start. The same rotation spot comes up two more times in spring training, but a third (and possibly the favorite) candidate, Berrios, should return from pitching in the WBC for at least one and possibly two of those starts.
As such, it is becoming more urgent for Mejia, with the least MLB experience, to show what he can do. He was impressive enough; he touched 95 on the radar gun and got through four innings with three strikeouts, but he had to wait for his grand entrance until the lineup was filled with Blue Jays backups. He also gave up back-to-back home runs to Justin Smoak (no shame in that, 106 career home runs) and Ryan McBroom (um, less impressive). That didn’t bother his manager. “He was kinda cuttin' loose a little bit,” summarized Paul Molitor. “I don’t know if he was playing to the scoreboard, but he kept challenging people with the fastball. … He gave up a couple of home runs. [Justin] Smoak had a good at-bat, but [Mejia] came right back and attacked the next guy. But he got him too. I’ve got no complaints about his day either.”
Still, today Duffey played the leading role, and was efficient enough to demand more time on the stage. He completed his five scoreless innings in (by my count) 59 pitches and so he had to throw 15 more in the bullpen. He confided that most of those bullpen pitches were practicing his developing changeup, but he admitted he only threw a few of the much-talked-about-addition during the game. (And they weren’t particularly effective.)
Instead it was his fastball command about which both he and his manager talked. Duffey credited his work on his “sinker.” “I tried to make a point of getting inside more often. Not to say I’m only going there, but to get me both sides of the plate, which is huge for me. Not being a 97-98 [miles per hour] guy, I gotta work a little bit. It’s been good so far.”
His manager agreed. “I think what he settled into was good fastball command,” said Molitor. “Anybody who can throw 60 pitches in five innings is getting ahead and doing those kind of things.” That command also seemed to get better as the game went on; Duffey finished his final inning on just 10 pitches.
For what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like this play is over. It’s questionable if anyone has even been eliminated. Molitor referred, albeit theoretically, to another start by Mejia to see how his velocity is maintained when he gets over 70 pitches. But Duffey reminded everyone what he can do and how he has developed, and he did so when it may have mattered most this spring. That would seem to bode well, but uneasy is the head that wears the crown. There are still a few more tryouts before the final role is determined.
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