Duran ties his velo record, fights off boredom

June 3rd, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Apparently, needed to feel a little bit more challenged, because it seems that throwing high-leverage ninth innings against the best hitters in the sport wasn’t quite enough to fully satisfy him.

“When I throw one inning, I feel a little bit bored,” Duran said.

It’s probably easier to make sure that Duran isn’t, well, bored when the Twins’ other high-leverage bullpen arms have struggled and he’s showing that, even after cooling off on the bench between innings, he can come back out and match his own hardest pitch thrown in the Majors this season, at 104.6 mph.

Duran did just that as he recorded five outs to slam the door on the Guardians at Target Field on Friday, combining with Bailey Ober, Jovani Moran and Brock Stewart to blank the division rivals for their first 1-0 victory since June 23, 2022 -- also against Cleveland.

“He’s just a rare breed,” Ober said. “I don’t know, it’s amazing to watch. And every single time he’s out there, I think everyone in the stands and in our dugout is in awe of what he can do.”

Awe is the proper response when Duran can throw 14 pitches in the eighth inning to escape an inherited jam, then return for the ninth and, only then, heave 104.6 mph and 104.5 mph fastballs on consecutive pitches to Cleveland center fielder Myles Straw with two outs, matching his own record for the highest velocity of the season.

Duran is the only pitcher to have thrown 104 mph or harder this season -- and he has now done it five times.

“The first one he threw, I just started laughing,” Straw said. “I mean, it’s 104. I looked up, and it felt every bit of it. I mean, it’s cool to see those kinds of things, though. You don’t really see that too often, so to see some talent like that and some velocity [like that] is pretty crazy.”

After the newly healthy smacked an RBI double off the right-field wall in the seventh inning to break a scoreless tie, a leadoff double by Steven Kwan in the eighth put the potential tying run on second with José Ramírez due up with one out.

At that point, everyone in the ballpark knew who would walk out that bullpen door for the biggest moment of the game -- even before the stadium lights went out, a sea of sparkling cell phone lights turned on and the dance music started to blare.

Perennial MVP candidate at the plate? No problem. Duran got to 0-2, tried to get Ramírez to chase a few curveballs as the count ran full, then dropped the hammer with a splitter at 99.6 mph in the dirt for the swinging strikeout.

“I know he's a great hitter, but when I'm on the mound, I think I'm better than him,” Duran said. “I attack the zone. When I get to two strikes, I strike him out then.”

It’s just that simple when he can also do what he did next following an intentional walk to Josh Naylor -- whipping four straight fastballs by Andrés Giménez at 103.6 mph, 103.6, 103.0 and, finally, 103.8 at the letters.

“[Hitting coach Chris Valaika] said to me, ‘You got any suggestions?’” Guardians manager Terry Francona recounted. “I said, ‘I’m glad I’m not the hitting guy.’”

That erased the threat in the eighth, but that still left the matter of the ninth. At the start of this season, the Twins were very careful with their usage of Duran, reserving him for one-inning stints with the lead -- but with the recent struggles of Griffin Jax and Jorge López, they’ve had to stretch that. Now, four of Duran’s last seven appearances have spanned multiple innings.

Clearly, he’s not complaining. Duran was a starter in the Minors, and he still longs for those days -- and his arm seems to be able to handle it well.

So, he came back out for the ninth, when he allowed a single to Straw but otherwise finished off an uneventful 26-pitch save, matching his own record for hardest pitch in Twins history along the way.

Duran said he works with his personal trainer every day with a focus on his flexibility and strength to stay healthy and, somehow, add even more velocity after he topped out at 103.8 mph last season.

He thinks he’s got 105 mph in the tank, too.

“I'm working for that,” Duran said.