Twins reliever Jhoan Duran sets sights on lofty goals for sophomore season
Duran quickly became the Twins’ most important reliever last year, armed with a fastball that averaged 100.8 mph, a splinker and a nasty curveball.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jhoan Duran’s first inning in the big leagues came with somewhat of a rude awakening.
The first batter he faced, Seattle Mariners first baseman Ty France, smacked a 100.7 mph fastball to right for a single. The next, Jesse Winker, hit a liner to center on a splinker.
“I said: ‘Oh. Damn. OK. I’m in the big leagues,’” Duran said.
He then uncorked a wild pitch, advancing both runners.
But it didn’t take long for the then-rookie to collect himself and recover. Duran struck out the next three batters and worked around a two-out walk in a scoreless second inning of work, prompting another thought.
“I said, ‘OK. I’m here,’” Duran said.
That he was, for good.
Duran quickly became the Minnesota Twins’ most important reliever and, armed with a fastball that averaged 100.8 mph, a splinker and a nasty curveball that opponents hit just .120 against, he spent the entire season flummoxing hitters.
“Whenever I think about that great season, I’m working hard for that but I’m not waiting for that,” Duran said. “You never know when you go to the big leagues, you have a great year — you never know if that’s (going to) happen.”
Duran’s rookie season was nothing short of spectacular — and now, entering his second year, he has some lofty goals. This year, the 25-year-old set his sights on 40 to 45 saves and 120 strikeouts.
No closer saved 45 games last season and 40 is a number only two closers — Emmanuel Clase (42) and Kenley Jansen (41) — eclipsed last year while 120 strikeouts is a milestone no reliever reached last season, though Mets closer Edwin Díaz got to 118.
“I see my numbers. I say ‘That’s my first year,’” Duran said. “Next year I (can) do more. … If I’ve got the opportunity, I’ve got it.”
Duran finished his season with a 1.86 ERA, striking out 89 batters in his 67 2/3 innings pitched, finishing the season with a 0.975 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). He collected eight saves, converting each of his save opportunities.
“We have a guy that we think is one of the absolute most electric pitchers in the entire world,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There’s very few people that are (as good) at their job than what he does.”
Still, there’s always room for improvement, and to that end, Duran said he’s been working on trying to get more carry on his fastball.
He’s also added more cardio into his routine, along with abdominal workouts, in an attempt to keep himself around 255 pounds, the weight he feels most comfortable pitching at.
“He has minor parts of his game that he’s trying to improve,” Baldelli said. “Even if he was a better pitcher in 2023 than 2022 — he executed pitches better, his stuff got better, if that’s even possible — he still might not be as effective as far as minimizing runs. He was that good last year. I’d love to see more of the same. That would work fine.”
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