After going 5-1 with a 3.05 ERA in 10 starts late last season, Tyler Duffey seemed like a pretty safe bet to secure a spot in the team’s rotation this spring. After all, nobody would mistake the 2016 Twins starting staff with the 1990s Atlanta Braves. Duffey himself, probably thought so too.
Admittedly, the 25-year-old took the wrong approach at Fort Myers and lost a battle for the 5th starter spot to veteran Ricky Nolasco (although Nolasco’s 8-figure annual salary probably played a role as well). After just three starts in Rochester however, Duffey is back in Minneapolis and looking to pick up where he left off in 2015.
I chatted with the thoughtful, candid right-hander before Wednesday’s game.
DZ: You are back in the big leagues after a few weeks in Rochester, what’s it like being up here?
DUFFEY: It’s always great to hear you are coming back…Obviously, it’s not great when guys you know are going on the DL and things like that. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for me to come up and show that I am still capable and I am ready to be here.
DZ: In spring training, you were in a battle for a rotation spot. One you did not end up getting. How did you deal with that disappointment?
DUFFEY: It wasn’t so much a disappointment more than just, I think I – trying to think of the right word for it – I didn’t assume things, but I took the opportunity as one to where I would go work on things instead of going and preparing to get people out. I really wanted to work on the change-up a lot. I put on the back burner getting the fast ball command that you normally work on during spring training. Hitting spots with my curve ball, things like that. I think I kind of put myself behind – not intentionally, obviously, but I didn’t put myself in a place to perform well. I think I have gotten back to that now. I feel great…It’s a constant process here. It changes daily. You are always working on stuff, adjusting to things. It’s good to be here, working on things here. When you get to come to this place everyday, it’s not too bad.
DZ: It sounds like – reading between the lines – it was kind of a big learning experience for you this spring.
DUFFEY: Yeah, it was definitely. Going into a quote “competition” was an interesting situation for me. I have obviously never been in that situation before. I had two months in the big leagues and, otherwise, no experience…I didn’t want to step on any toes, say something that could have been misconstrued one way or the other. I think I am better for having it turn out the way it did. It showed me there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. I chose the latter. I took the extreme toward working on the change-up versus working them in while still working on things I need to do. So now, going into next year, depending on how this off-season goes – this season goes, for that matter – now I know.
DZ: Last year, like you said, you were in the big leagues for a couple of months and had pretty good success up here. How did that affect your outlook going into the off-season?
DUFFEY: I felt great about it. I knew I was capable. I mean, everyone – you have to be somewhat confident in yourself. Going into it and having the success I did gave me that confidence coming into spring and then, obviously, I took that and did with it what I did. It was great to be here pitching in those games. That helped me a lot, being able to throw in really meaningful games in the playoff race toward the end of the season there. Pitching against Chris Sale, (Dallas) Kuechel, (Chris) Archer – I threw against some big times guys. I kind of got the brunt of that experience. Thrown straight into the fire. I mean Toronto – that line-up. I saw a lot of things, learning a lot really quickly. I think that does nothing but help me.
DZ: When you get thrown in like that is it kind of one of those situations where it’s good not knowing what you don’t know?
DUFFEY: Absolutely. Dumb luck (laughs), if you want to call it anything. It’s one of those things where you get up here and it’s a lot really quickly. We are talking to (the media) everyday. Guys here in the clubhouse, the cameras, the lights, the fans. It’s a lot to take in really quickly. Spring training is one thing, the crowd is there, but it’s really relaxed. The games don’t mean as much. Here, we are trying to win every night, every way possible. It’s a different world, but it’s a fun one to be in.
DZ: Once you do get called up, is it hard not to put too much pressure on yourself knowing that if you have a bad outing you could be right back down?
DUFFEY: I try and take it as an opportunity to be able to come up and show what I am capable of. Everybody is going to put pressure on themselves, but I try and stay pretty level-headed and realize the situations I am in. With Ervin (Santana) and Kyle (Gibson) on the DL – they are eventually going to have to come off the DL. That’s not something I am thinking about, but it’s just something I know regardless of what I do here, that ultimately could have no effect on whether I am here or not. Ervin Santana is our opening day starter, when he comes off the DL, he’s going to pitch. That’s just the way it is. You think about things like that, but as long you stay realistic with yourself and don’t set too many lofty goals…If they say you are going to pitch, do pitch. You can’t help much else. If I go out and perform well, that’s all I can really do at this point.