Tyler Duffey may have caught your attention Wednesday night because he’s an excellent reliever. Rocco Baldelli might have caught your attention because he stuck his best reliever out there for a second inning of work.
Matter of convenience? Or planning ahead for the postseason?
With the Twins leading 3-1, and really needing to win to keep open the possibility of winning the division, Duffey came on to pitch the seventh inning. (Cody Stashak had done well to keep the game where it was after Jake Odorizzi’s had to leave in the 4th inning with an injured finger.) Boom, boom, boom. Grounder, lineout and a popup, Duffey swiftly retired three good White Sox hitters on 10 pitches.
Miguel Sanó hit a 2-run homer the next half-inning to make it 5-1, but there was Duffey, out there for a second inning of work to pitch to the bottom of Chicago’s lineup.
"We knew he had to cover innings tonight," Duffey told reporters after the game. "Luckily, I was able to be efficient and get two for us, so all our guys are ready to go tomorrow."
Before we rush and place way too much importance on one outing in mid-September – and trust me, I will – we could quickly note that the reason he was back out there after a quick inning may have just been a matter of convenience and circumstance. The night before, Randy Dobnak didn’t get out of the fifth inning, so trusted reliever Tyler Clippard and Jorge Alcala were asked to get five outs and six outs, respectively. Then with Odorizzi leaving early from his first start back from the IL, and Duffey making such quick work of the 4-5-6 hitters, maybe it was just the path of least resistance to use him for a second frame.
Or MAYBE, just maybe, the Twins are toying with an idea.
Duffey has recorded more than three outs in three outings this year: Aug. 31 (White Sox), Sept. 6 (Tigers) and Sept. 16 (White Sox). Circumstances were different in each game, but it’s at least interesting that they’re clustered fairly recently, as postseason matchups come into better focus.
Furthermore, Duffey has only pitched once without a day of rest this season (among his 19 appearances), so I would be skeptical about the prospects of him pitching consecutive games in October. Given that each round will be played straight through with no off days ‘til it’s over, we could settle on an optimal Wild Card usage for Duffey as pitching in Games 1 and 3 (if necessary).
Would you use him for multiple innings at a time, then?
If you’d like to consider it in October, it could make sense to toy with it over the final 9 games. I think it’s hard to ask a guy to do something in October that he hasn’t really been asked to do before that. I’ll patiently wait and see how the Twins handle the final games of the regular season, with health being the primary objective, of course.
Ideally, the Twins would use their top two starters – Kenta Maeda and pick your preference between José Berríos and Michael Pineda -- and be done with the series in two games. Then, use whichever guy you didn’t use in Game 2 for the first game of the Division Series. That, in theory, wouldn’t leave too many innings to cover with their dynamic bullpen. And in that case, maybe the multi-inning question is just a complete non-starter.
It’s so simple, right!
To achieve their real goal they’ll need to win series in that best-of-three, a best-of-five and two best-of-seven series. The wisdom of One Series at a Time still applies. There’s definitely potential over that bulk of innings to lean on your relievers, and the Twins are fortunate to be quite deep in that department.
One argument for using Duffey for more than one inning is that he’s one of the best relievers in baseball -- .241 wOBA, 34.2% strikeout rate, only two homers all year. One argument against that logic is that the Twins have a number of relievers who have been great and could help spread the workload around for a postseason run that could run 22 games in 25 days. Someone smarter than me will have to shed light on the question: Would you be better off with two consecutive innings of Duffey, or one inning from Duffey and one inning from Tyler Clippard? And are there positive or negative downstream effects?
One thing I’ll say is that I didn’t exactly agree with the way that Baldelli used his bullpen last October in a win-or-go-home series against the Yankees. Too chill for me. This time around, you’d like to see the Twins more eager to go for the knockout punch.
Then again, a knockout strategy could be something like, ‘Let Kenta Maeda pitch a lot and then use a combination of the nine relievers in favorable matchups and one-inning bursts.’
What do you think? Are you asking Duffey to sit down and get back up again when the season is on the line this October?
If you liked this piece and want more from Derek Wetmore ...
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