July 5, 2022

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Duran 'ready' for whatever spot Twins need him

3 min read
No. 5-ranked prospect tallied first save against Orioles
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This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In what felt like a foregone conclusion from the moment he first took the mound for the Twins on Opening Day, it took less than a month for Jhoan Duran to migrate all the way to the ninth inning.

The hard-throwing, 24-year-old ace-in-waiting may very well have shed that “in-waiting” qualifier after he earned his first career save in the Twins’ 2-1 victory over the Orioles on Monday night — and he made it look easy. Ten pitches, nine strikes, three outs — including one filthy 97.6 mph “splinker” to Tyler Nevin for a game-ending strikeout.

“It’s huge, and I appreciate it,” Duran said. “That’s why I work so hard to be in situations like that with myself, and I thank God I was able to do that today.”

It seemed like there was a big hole at the back end of the Twins’ bullpen after they traded Taylor Rogers to the Padres on Opening Day — but it turned out they had another monster ready to go all along. The world just hadn’t seen him yet, since Duran missed most of the 2021 Minor League season with an elbow injury.

Ranked the No. 5 prospect in the organization, Duran has already thrown the hardest pitch in recorded Twins history — and he’s been able to command that stuff, too, posting 19 strikeouts against only two walks in 12 innings, with a 3.00 ERA in that span. Among his eight big league appearances entering Tuesday, Duran’s usage quickly morphed from entering with the Twins down in the game, to entering with a bigger lead, to being relied on in late, high-leverage situations.

And now, the ninth-inning seal is broken. Were the Twins specifically trying to make that happen?

“There were a few reasons why he pitched the ninth inning,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It wasn’t just because we wanted him to throw the ninth inning. Some of the matchups, maybe, but he’s throwing well against everyone that he’s facing.”

Does this mean there’s been an official changing of the guard in the ninth after Emilio Pagán briefly appeared to hold the role in the interim? We’ll have to see. It’s likely that Baldelli will continue to be noncommittal and talk about flexibility and matchup considerations. That’s how the Twins have publicly postured these situations in the past.

It’s also true that Baldelli’s track record does indicate that he sometimes likes to give the brunt of ninth-inning opportunities to one pitcher unless the matchups really dictate otherwise. Rogers was that guy in 2019, and Alex Colomé — at least theoretically — looked like he was going to be that guy last season. Keep in mind, too, that there isn’t a clear left-handed matchups option alongside Duran due to Rogers’ departure and the struggles of Caleb Thielbar.

We’ll see how this plays out. The youngster says he’s ready for his shot.

“Every time that opportunity presents itself, and they give me a chance, I’m going to be ready for it,” Duran said.

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