Fireballing reliever Duran makes history with 'splinker'

August 30th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Theatrical, over-the-top reliever entrance montages are all the rage around the big leagues these days. If you hear the blare of trumpets, that means Mets closer Edwin Díaz is about to bulldoze your lineup. The sound of eerie whistling is the signal that young Orioles fireballer Félix Bautista is about to blow you away with triple-digit stuff.

At Target Field, the sound of crackling flames, as shown on the video ribbons around the ballpark, coupled with a sudden shut-off of the stadium lights, means that is about to do some combination of both -- and perhaps break the laws of physics along the way.

Imagine being a reliever with such absurd stuff that a 103.3-mph fastball is a footnote -- because six pitches later, Duran unleashed a 100.8-mph split-fingered pitch that clocked in as the first offspeed pitch ever tracked in the triple digits, per Statcast, and almost certainly the hardest offspeed pitch in the history of the sport. Duran’s unbelievable seventh inning highlighted a sterling effort from the Minnesota bullpen in a 4-2 win over the Red Sox that stretched the Twins’ winning streak to four games.

"That pumps you up like very few things I’ve ever seen from a pitcher, ever, since I’ve been in baseball," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It fires you up, watching the way he goes about doing his job. There are good pitchers. And the end goal is to get three outs. That’s really what we’re asking guys to do. There are a lot of different ways to do that, but my god, that is some insane stuff going on out there when he takes the mound.”

"He deserves a cake,” starter Dylan Bundy said.

After came through with a two-out, bases-clearing double -- the 100th two-bagger of his career -- off Red Sox reliever John Schreiber in the fifth inning to give the Twins yet another clutch knock of the sort they lacked for much of August, the fortified bullpen took over the game, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball to halt the Red Sox.

Duran’s seventh inning loomed large, earlier than one would traditionally expect from the club’s best reliever, but it was also undeniably the most important relief inning in the game because of the hitters due up: Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. In all likelihood, that’s the inning in which the game would be won or lost for the Twins.

It took five pitches for Verdugo to be dispatched on a pitch that clocked in at 99.7 mph, an offering that classified as a four-seamer but had the wicked sink of the unique “splinker” -- Duran’s splitter-sinker hybrid.

Bogaerts also ducked out after five pitches. Devers was the victim of the record-breaking 100.8 mph splinker that missed for a ball -- and the inning ended on another splinker at 99.5 mph that Boston's star third baseman chopped harmlessly to short.

"That ball looks like it would go right through your bat if you somehow made contact with it,” wrote former Twins third baseman and current media personality Trevor Plouffe on Twitter.

“You can’t even draw up the filth on that," Red Sox analyst Dennis Eckersley marveled on the NESN broadcast. "This is not right."

And now that the Twins also have Michael Fulmer and Jorge López in the bullpen mix, they can play their Duran card whenever they see fit. This would allow Baldelli to work his roster's other back-end arms in around Duran according to matchups, with Caleb Thielbar, Griffin Jax and López nearly spotless around Duran, too, in a bullpen that was the team’s biggest weakness in the first half but suddenly ranks fourth in the AL in WAR, per FanGraphs, since the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline.

"Our bullpen feels like a pretty dense group of good arms," Baldelli said. "It doesn’t feel like there’s a bad decision I can make right now."

In a season full of absolute filth from Duran, the rookie who has carried the Twins’ bullpen through thick and thin, this may very well have been his most show-stopping showcase yet, as he has "splinked" and strutted his way to a 1.91 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings.

He’s often downplayed his velocity in the past, but Monday clearly meant something to him.

"It's not something I was looking for, but it's great to know, especially because this is the big leagues and a lot of legends have come through here," Duran said. "My career is starting, and doing that at this level is really hard, and I'm really happy about it."