FORT MYERS, FLA. - Like every player early in Twins training camp, pitcher Tyler Duffey had his five-minute meeting with his bosses to discuss his objectives for the season.
Duffey knew his tendency to get too emotional during games was going to come up — he just wasn’t prepared for who would raise the topic.
While sitting in manager Paul Molitor’s office last week, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine gave Duffey their perspectives from their times with Cleveland and Texas, respectively, before joining the Twins during the offseason.
Their message: Melting down is a sign of weakness. And opponents pounce when they sense a pitcher is melting down.
As Duffey fights for a spot in the Twins rotation, he has to prove he can be intense but keep his poise when things don’t go right.
“To hear it from them — they came from teams we play quite frequently — both of them had that to say and that speaks volumes,” Duffey said. “And that told me this is something I need to embrace, go with it, make it be a positive for me, instead of being upset and losing my cool and then being out of the game.”
Duffey, 26, went 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts in 2015. He would yell at himself on the mound, but quickly regain his focus and battle out of high-pressure situations. His mood swings were laughed off in Molitor’s office after games, and Duffey looked ready to be reliable member of the starting rotation.
Last year was vastly different. He went 9-12 with a 6.43 ERA, and righthanded hitters batted .337 against him. His ERA would have been the highest of any starter in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify.
Blowing up at himself on the mound only sped up the unraveling of innings. He would stew in the dugout between innings. His focus off, his outings only worsened. The Twins tried to correct it but, when that didn’t work, they lightened his wallet.
“I was fining him by the end of the year,” pitching coach Neil Allen said. “Fining him for all the blowups and all that kind of stuff. It should have been addressed a long time ago so we wouldn’t be even talking about this.
“He is his own worst enemy in the dugout during the course of a game. If he has a tough time, he loses concentration. He loses his focus because he is so mad over a couple of hits.”
Duffey, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester on Aug. 25 and recalled Sept. 6, wants everything to be perfect in a sport in which perfection is rare. Then he erupts when he doesn’t meet his high standards. Baseball doesn’t work well that way.
LaTroy Hawkins, who was in camp as an special instructor, talked with Duffey the first week of camp about accepting small victories along the way. If he misses the plate with a pitch, be happy the catcher is throwing the ball back to him for another chance.
“Obviously, I’m still getting upset,” Duffey said, “but I tell myself, ‘You got the ball back and you get to throw this next pitch.’ I think that is going to be huge for me. The fire is still going to be there, but the ability to temper it and pitching with that extra focus vs. just becoming angry on the mound.”
Duffey’s poise was tested in the third inning Tuesday when he loaded the bases and served up a grand slam to Rays prospect Jake Bauers. Allen ran out to the mound to try to get Duffey to move hitters off the plate — they were teeing off in what became a 19-0 rout.
There was no sign of Duffey blowing his top. He only threw one too many fastballs, and Bauers was looking for one to tag.
Hey, one thing at a time. Duffey didn’t come unglued.
Now he can work on pitch selection and using his changeup more.
“Once I got in my own way, that’s when the problems came,” Duffey said. “If I can stay out of my own way, then I will be all right.”