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Healthy Duke ready to move forward with Twins

Molitor won't hesitate to use lefty against right-handed bats
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a 13-year veteran with a career 3.14 ERA as a reliever, Zach Duke knew what kind of team he wanted to join as a free agent this offseason.

Duke, 34, sought to sign with a contending club, and after doing his research, the left-hander decided to sign a one-year deal worth $2.15 million with the Twins in late December because he feels they're on the cusp of something special.

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a 13-year veteran with a career 3.14 ERA as a reliever, Zach Duke knew what kind of team he wanted to join as a free agent this offseason.

Duke, 34, sought to sign with a contending club, and after doing his research, the left-hander decided to sign a one-year deal worth $2.15 million with the Twins in late December because he feels they're on the cusp of something special.

"I had a couple offers out there, but after examining rosters, the way teams are put together, atmosphere, and talking to people I knew that had been in certain places, the Twins just made sense," said Duke, who has yet to pitch in the postseason. "This team is on the edge of being really good for a while and has the same type of feel as the Astros with a bunch of really good young position players, but maybe a pitcher or two away."

The Twins are still looking for a starting pitcher to add to that mix, but Duke helps round out a much-improved bullpen that also added closer Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed via free agency. Rodney and Reed, who both have closing experience, are more well-known names than Duke, but he was one of the more underrated lefty relievers from 2014-16 until undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2016.

During that three-year stretch, Duke posted a 2.74 ERA with 208 strikeouts and 78 walks over 180 1/3 innings, averaging 75 appearances per season. He was expected to miss the '17 season following the surgery, which usually takes 12-14 months to recover from, but he had a quick recovery, returning to the Cardinals' bullpen by July 21.

Duke recorded a 3.93 ERA with 12 strikeouts and six walks in 18 1/3 innings over 27 appearances, and he said regaining his command was the hardest part, but that he's looking forward to it improved this year.

"I'm excited based on how I've felt throwing this offseason," Duke said. "I expect to be back to where I was pre-surgery. I think my days of gaining velocity are over, but as long as the movement and location is there, I can get guys out."

Duke figures to pair with Taylor Rogers as the Twins' two primary lefty relievers. But manager Paul Molitor said he doesn't see Duke as someone who will only face lefties, as the former starter has the stuff to get right-handers out. As a former starter, Duke mixes his pitches well, as he has a slider, cutter, curveball and changeup to go along with his 88-mph fastball. Duke has held right-handed hitters to a .224/.322/.353 slash line since 2014.

"I think he's only going to be better with an offseason to prepare and strengthen his arm," Molitor said. "He's not a left-handed specialist. He's an option to get big outs."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Zach Duke