The Rochester Red Wings spent the first week of the International League schedule on the road and then opened at home last Friday. The first postponement did not come until Sunday, and there was another Monday.
Tyler and Sarah Duffey moved into an apartment in Rochester over those two days. Duffey had learned during the 2018 season to keep his cellphone near in the late evening, on the chance he would receive a call from Red Wings manager Joel Skinner.
“It was about 11:30 on Monday night, the phone beeped, I looked over and saw it was from ‘Skins,’ ” Duffey said. “And I said, ‘This should be good news.’ ”
Skinner was calling to inform Duffey, now a veteran righthanded pitcher, that he was wanted in Minnesota on Tuesday. Jonell Hutchins, Sarah’s mother, was flying in from Houston for a visit and their planes might have crisscrossed at Greater Rochester International.
The Twins went to 12 pitchers on April 6 and righthander Chase De Jong received the first promotion. Four days later, he was supplanted by lefthander Andrew Vasquez. De Jong pitched once and gave up four runs in an inning for a 36.00 ERA. Vasquez pitched once and gave up three runs without getting an out for an ERA of infinity.
“It’s always good to be here,” Duffey said. “And now I have to get enough outs to stay.”
The first outing was promising. He pitched the last two innings Tuesday night, giving up a hit, a walk but no runs and striking out three. That should keep a relief pitcher around, but then again, Duffey probably felt that way early last June.
He pitched four times from May 31 to June 8, scoreless with totals of three hits, four strikeouts and no walks, and his next 17 appearances came over a five-week period in Rochester.
Duffey came and went with the Twins four times last season. The first time he was recalled on April 25, manager Paul Molitor said it was to fill the Twins’ need for a “legitimate middle reliever.” He stayed for two appearances that time, then spent the next month in Rochester.
He is 28 now and one of four Twins from the 2012 draft: Byron Buxton (second overall), Jose Berrios (32nd overall), Duffey (fifth round) and Taylor Rogers (11th round).
Tuesday’s appearance vs. Toronto was Duffey’s 112th for the Twins. It has been quite a drama of highs and lows since he made his first appearance on Aug. 5, 2015 — also against the Blue Jays, in Rogers Centre.
Those Blue Jays had Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion as the heart of the order. Duffey gave up a monstrous two-run home run to Donaldson as the Jays’ second hitter, and then a grand slam to Bautista in the second.
It was carnage — six runs in two innings — and Duffey was sent back to Rochester. Ten days later, the Twins needed a starter for injured Phil Hughes. The media and public demanded a first look at potential phenom Berrios in the big leagues. General Manager Terry Ryan gave us Duffey again.
Amid the screams of outrage, Duffey was exceptional over nine starts, giving up two runs or fewer in eight of those. The story line went from “Where’s Berrios?” to “How ’bout that Duffey curveball?”
Duffey went to spring training in 2016 with basically a lock on a place in the rotation. And then he spent the early exhibitions fixated on improving his changeup, rather than throwing strikes with his fastball and making the curveball even more effective.
He pitched his way to Rochester to open the season, and then made 26 starts for the 103-loss Twins of 2016 — a few good ones (such as dominating the Yankees in the Bronx in June), more poor ones.
After that season, Duffey was a reliever. In 110 combined appearances with the Twins and Rochester dating to 2017, he has one start — two innings as an “opener” last September vs. the Yankees.
Four seasons: surprise discovery in stretch, bloated ERA as starter, high ERA as reliever, rider of Rochester roller-coaster.
And in those four seasons, it appears that pitching has come to him. Never has so much emphasis been put on spinning the baseball as in this game now driven by high-tech analysis.
“I look at my curveball as three pitches: tighter one, slower one, and from a different arm angle,” Duffey said. “I’m excited about how this organization works now — the way the pitching people show us with actual data what can make us better.”
For sure, the new Twins love the curveball. And Duffey has a good one, or three.