Twins stretch out Duffey to compete for rotation

February 17th, 2018

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the Twins looking to increase their depth at starting pitcher, right-hander will be stretched out to start this spring and will compete for a spot in the rotation.

Duffey was in the mix for a rotation spot last year, only to find out on the last day of camp that he had made the team, albeit as a reliever, for the first time in his Major League career. Duffey posted a 4.94 ERA in 71 innings, striking out 67, walking 18 and allowing nine homers. It was an improvement from his rough 2016, when he posted a 6.43 ERA in 26 starts. But as Twins general manager Thad Levine told Duffey in a meeting on Friday, that Duffey's peripheral stats show he's been a bit unlucky the past two seasons.

The statistic fielding independent pitching (FIP), which is based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed, showed Duffey should have had a 3.72 ERA last year and a 4.73 ERA in 2016. Duffey had a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts as a rookie in '15 and had a similar FIP of 3.24.

"[Starting is] something I feel I'm more than capable of doing," Duffey said. "I've had success doing it. In '16, it was one of those years where nobody had a good year, really. And in our meeting, Thad said if you break it down, I didn't pitch as poorly as the numbers show. Sometimes luck can be a part of that."

Duffey, 27, had a strong start to last season with a 3.69 ERA through the end of June, but posted a 6.47 ERA the rest of the way. He said he struggled to adjust to being a reliever, but feels like he's put himself into a better position this year with what he learned last season from other relievers such as Matt Belisle and .

"I had a good first half, but I think I wore myself out a little bit," Duffey said. "It was just about making adjustments on the fly. I had to pick Rogers' brain a lot. The learning curve is steep but you have to find a way, and I think I've found my footing. I've learned a lot about pitching over the last year. I know how to handle it and control situations."

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Duffey added he believes his changeup is much improved as a third pitch to go with his fastball and curveball, which will help him as a starter. But he said he's also fine if he makes the team as a long reliever, as helping the club is his main goal.

"I really enjoyed that long role," Duffey said. "You can help the rest of the bullpen out and starters, too. If something happens to a starter or he has a bad day, I can go three or four innings to save our bullpen from being worn out."

Twins tidbits

• Center fielder arrived at camp on Saturday and participated in workouts. Second baseman and third baseman are the lone position players on the 40-man roster who have yet to report before Sunday's report date and Monday's first full-squad workouts. Non-roster invite Willians Astudillo has visa issues in Venezuela, and the catcher has yet to report.

• Right-hander is expected to arrive in camp on Sunday or Monday after flying to New York for a follow-up exam following surgery on his right middle finger. Santana will be limited early in spring and isn't ready to throw yet.

• Twins manager Paul Molitor watched bullpen sessions for the first time this spring on Saturday at the request of pitching coach Garvin Alston. Molitor generally avoids throwing sessions so he doesn't put too much pressure on the pitchers to impress early in camp.

• Molitor said camp has been running smoothly under new bench coach Derek Shelton and that things will be different this year once the full squad reports because the team has less time to get ready for games. The Twins have just three days of full workouts before hosting the University of Minnesota on Thursday, so roughly half of the pitchers in camp will throw just one live bullpen session before the games start.