December 5, 2022

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Could Duran's 'next-level stuff' earn him closer role?

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Rookie sets franchise record by hitting 102 mph on radar gun

MINNEAPOLIS — Following Taylor Rogers’ departure to San Diego, it’s unclear what the Twins’ ninth-inning situation will look like for now.

Jhoan Duran got his first chance to make his case for the job in Monday’s 4-0 victory over the Mariners — and he made it in historic fashion by throwing the hardest tracked pitch in Twins history, a 102 mph fastball to J.P. Crawford, the final hitter of the game.

“I’m glad I’m not hitting it, I’ll tell you that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I know every coach in the dugout is sitting there thinking the same thing, and maybe a few players, too, all over the field. But I haven’t seen 102 too many times. I know guys throw hard these days, but that’s some next-level stuff.”

It’s particularly next-level stuff for the Twins, an organization traditionally known for its relative lack of velocity in a game that’s quickly moved to embrace that heat. It’s telling that Duran is one of only four Twins pitchers in the pitch tracking era (since 2008) to hit triple-digits on the radar gun, joining Juan Morillo, teammate Jorge Alcala and Brusdar Graterol.

Graterol, the former top prospect, is now pitching out of the Dodgers’ bullpen and held the previous record of 101.9 mph, hurled in a game against Cleveland on Sept. 14, 2019.

Before Monday night, there had been three pitches thrown by Twins ever tracked at 101 mph or harder — two by Graterol, one by Morillo. Duran threw six in the ninth inning alone on Monday.

How much more could be in Duran’s arm, then?

“Whatever God wants me to throw,” said the soft-spoken 24-year-old, simply.

This kind of raw stuff (and that’s not to mention his one-of-a-kind “splinker” pitch) seems like it could be a natural fit for the ninth inning, and in that regard, Monday offered an almost ideal opportunity for manager Rocco Baldelli to get the rookie into that situation for the first time. It was still the opportunity to finish off a game, but it came with a four-run cushion, lessening the pressure.

Tyler Duffey got the first crack at a save situation and gave up two ninth-inning runs in a 4-3 loss on Saturday. Emilio Pagán and perhaps Jorge Alcala could also be in the mix to finish off games. But following only two career Major League appearances, Duran has already wowed with both his record-breaking stuff and his composure.

“I think it worked out perfectly for him to get out there and gain some late-inning experience,” Baldelli said. “I don’t think the different types of roles and situations that we’re going to put him in will affect him one bit. He’s a low-pulse kind of guy in general. I think he can handle whatever we throw his way.”

But the unassuming Duran, a starter throughout his Minor League career, claims he hasn’t thought about the possibility of becoming a closer with stuff that’s rarely ever been seen in Minneapolis.

He’s already written a record into his books. Perhaps, the saves will soon follow.

“I haven’t thought about being in that specific role,” Duran said. “They haven’t told me anything related to that. I am not waiting for that either. I’m just trying to do my job every time my name is called.”

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