Will hard-throwing Jhoan Duran be the Twins’ closer? Only sometimes
The rookie right-hander is officially the hardest-throwing Twins pitcher, ever, but he’ll do more than close games
There was a time when a right-hander routinely throwing 100-plus mph would be a team’s closer, few, if any, questions asked. The Minnesota Twins have one in Jhoan Duran, and he has four saves in 16 appearances this season.
Before Thursday night’s game against Kansas City at Target Field, Duran had an 0.00 earned-run average in his past seven appearances, with just three hits and a walk against 12 strikeouts in 8⅔ innings.
Just a rookie, Duran, 24, has thrown the fastest pitches in Twins history already this season, 103.3 and 103.1 mph in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to Cleveland on May 14, and his four-seam fastball has averaged an MLB-high 100.6 mph, according to baseballsavant.mlb.com .
Wouldn’t it be easy to see Duran sliding into the role as the Twins’ closer this season?
“No,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said this week. “He’s going to throw in a lot of different spots for us.”
Before Thursday’s game, the Twins’ 12 saves were split up between four pitchers: Emilio Pagan (6), Duran (4), Tyler Duffey (1) and Griffin Jax (1). Pagan’s past two appearances were high-leverage — he earned the victory with two scoreless innings of a 2-0 victory over Detroit on Tuesday — but not save situations.
“It’s just the way the game is played now. Very few teams have a set guy,” Pagan said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a deep ’pen of guys that can probably do the job.”
In his first major league experience, Duran has been scored on three times in 16 appearances. The Red Sox scored three runs on three hits, including a solo home run by Christian Vazquez, late in the Twins’ 8-4 victory on April 15, and Duran took the loss after surrendering two eighth-inning runs May 5 at Baltimore.
Overall, Duran has been sharp, 0-1 with four saves, four holds and a 2.53 ERA in 16⅔ innings pitched.
“I’ve told Rocco I very much enjoy the ninth inning,” Pagan said this week, “but I also consider myself a pretty good teammate. So, if I don’t throw the ninth, I’m not going to be upset — especially when you’ve got a guy like Duran who’s a human cheat code. … As long as we’re winning, I don’t care.”
“I do understand that the young guy is doing a fantastic job,” Baldelli said. “When Duran goes out there, and the radar gun starts saying 102 (mph) and all that, I get excited. So, I’m sure everyone else that’s watching at home is getting really excited. But we don’t have to put any undue titles on the guy or anything like that. He’s going to throw in the seventh inning for us, possibly, in his next outing, or the ninth. Who knows?”
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association agreed on Thursday to extend a moratorium on a new rule requiring teams to include no more than 13 pitchers on their 26-man active roster.
That was good news for Baldelli, and likely the other 29 major league managers.
“I consider it a holiday,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
The rule, added this season as an attempt to shorten games, has yet to go into effect. After the lockout shortened spring training, MLB allowed teams to carry 14 pitchers for the first month. That was extended again through May 29, and on Thursday it was extended until June 19.
The Twins were at 13 pitchers before Thursday night’s game against Kansas City at Target Field but have a handful on injured reserve — such as right-handers Joe Ryan (COVID), Josh Winder (shoulder) and Jorge Alcala (elbow) and lefty Danny Coulombe (hip) — that will be activated when healthy.
“We know this might not last forever, and we don’t know what’s to come, but I would say it’s going to be helpful to us and all the players out there,” Baldelli said.
Alcala, on the IL since April 12 because of inflammation in his right elbow, threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday. … Coulombe, on the IL with a left hip impingement, appears close to returning. “I think we could see him back in the next day or two,” Baldelli said. … Jorge Polanco (right ankle) received treatment and missed his third straight game.
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