Twins rookie gives batters that splinking feeling in debut

Duran clocks 100 mph while his pitches dart and dive on Opening Day

April 9th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariners super-prospect Julio Rodríguez was supposed to bring the young star power to Target Field in his Major League debut. Instead, Jhoan Duran stole the show.

Four straight strikeouts, three pitches in excess of 100 mph with got-to-see-it-to-believe-it movement and the kind of raw stuff that’s rarely been seen from the Target Field mound will do that for a 24-year-old in his first taste of the big leagues.

The Twins’ bats fell quiet against defending American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray in a 2-1 Opening Day loss to the Mariners at Target Field on Friday afternoon, but Duran’s electric right arm was anything but quiet as the Twins’ No. 6 prospect announced his arrival to the big leagues with two scoreless frames of relief and an overwhelming pitch mix long spoken of but finally witnessed on a Major League mound.

"That guy's got some closer stuff,” Carlos Correa said. “I mean, that's closer stuff right there. As good as it can be.”

Taking over in the fifth inning after starter Joe Ryan was wild but limited damage through four, Duran allowed singles to his first two batters and moved them into scoring position with none out on a wild pitch. It would have been easy for the rookie to fold and let things spiral from there.

Instead, that’s when the fun began.

The next pitch to Mitch Haniger was his big, north-south curveball, dropped in for strike one. The next two pitches clocked in at 100.1 and 99.7. Whiff. Whiff. One down.

Eugenio Suárez was up next. Sinker at 99.8 on the black for strike one. Duran then fired his one-of-a-kind “splinker” pitch at 96.2 mph, and Suárez swung straight through it. He had no chance at the next pitch, 99.5 with run. Two down.

"Electric, electric stuff,” said Mariners outfielder Jesse Winker. “We heard about his pitch, the splinker. And, I mean, you guys saw it on the board. It was a 96 mph splitter. So, obviously electric stuff, electric talent, and it's going to be fun to see how he progresses and follow his career.”

Jarred Kelenic was the next hitter tasked with reining in Duran’s heat. Good luck. He did better than his teammates, fouling off a 100.3 mph sinker, but he stared helplessly at a curveball that perfectly painted the outside corner at 87 mph for strike three.

Talk about a comeback.

"That's a dog mentality right there,” Correa said. “He kept his composure. You never saw him wide-eyed out there. It was almost like he knew he could get out of that jam, and he did.”

On Twitter, the Pitching Ninja account, known for highlighting the nastiest pitches around the league, used the words “ridiculous” and “wicked” in showing off Duran’s arsenal. Noted Mariners fan and NFL media personality Mina Kimes chimed in, too: “Man this dude Jhoan Duran…” followed by a “make it stop lol” in short order.

“Settled in after the first couple hitters and then, I mean, everything we got after that was just fire,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Suffice it to say Duran passed the eye test -- and Statcast had plenty to say, too.

Duran’s sinker topped out at 100.7 mph, already tying teammate Jorge Alcala for the fifth-hardest pitch thrown by a Twin in the pitch tracking era (since 2008). He had three pitches measured in the triple digits to rank second-most in any outing by a Twins pitcher in that time, behind Brusdar Graterol, who threw seven such pitches on Sept. 14, 2019.

That stuff should be a key all year in the Twins’ bullpen, which has been starved of velocity for the club’s recent history. And though Duran’s velocity was down a tick in his second frame, when he issued a two-out walk, he finished with four strikeouts in his two scoreless frames.

“That's only showing that hard work pays off,” Duran said. “I'm just here and trying to help the team win as much as possible, and today I feel like I did my job. My first opportunity, and I took advantage of it.”

By the way, the Twins are in the market for a closer now that Taylor Rogers is gone to San Diego. Could this have served as Duran’s first audition? Only time will tell. One thing’s already obvious: The kid’s stuff can really play.

“I’m glad we’re on the same team and I’m not facing that kind of pitching and velocity and movement,” catcher Gary Sánchez said.