Rookies are supposed to be seen and not heard, but there are times when Tyler Duffey is not like that at all.
“That guy is not afraid,” Twins outfielder Torii Hunter said. “You can hear him screaming when you’re coming in from the field. He is screaming in the dugout. Maybe [he’s] a little hard on himself, but I like it. He has a lot of fight.”
And the Twins are looking for fighters right now, players who are ready to make a stand, who aren’t afraid to show emotion and who can help in the team’s chase for an American League wild-card spot. Duffey was that man Sunday, pitching the Twins to an 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels to avoid getting swept in the four-game series.
The Twins’ five-game losing streak ended because of Duffey, the 24-year-old who opened the year at Class AA Chattanooga. He tossed seven shutout innings on three hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. None of the hits was blistered, either.
“The last five games have been tough to swallow,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We needed a way to turn the page and find a way to win a game. You put a lot on that young man in terms of asking him to stop a losing streak.”
With two weeks left in the season, the Twins and Angels both trail Houston by 2½ games for the second AL wild-card spot. Cleveland, in town Tuesday for a three-game series, lurks 1½ games behind the Twins.
The Twins, ever so careful about overworking young pitchers, have contemplated pulling Duffey from the rotation, because his 183⅔ innings pitched this year are 34⅓ innings more than he’s thrown in any season since he was drafted out of Rice in 2012. Molitor said several people, including Duffey, will be consulted before any decision to shut him down or put him in the bullpen is made.
“That’s why you have to have his input,” Molitor said. “If he wasn’t pitching well, I think everyone would say it would be a lot easier [to shut him down]. You don’t want to get too greedy. At the same time, if the kid is able, he’s given us a lot of high-end starts here down the stretch.
“We’d like to take advantage of him, if we can.”
Here is where Duffey doesn’t have to say a word. He is 4-1 with a 3.15 ERA in eight starts with the Twins. Throw out his disastrous two-inning debut at Toronto on Aug. 5 and he is 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA in seven starts. Over his past three starts he is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA, making him their most effective starter during this postseason push.
Hunter gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in the second inning vs. Matt Shoemaker (7-10) with a solo home run to left, Hunter’s 21st homer of the season. After blowing a 5-0 first-inning lead right away Thursday, the Twins went 30 innings before leading the Angels again. This time, they didn’t give it back.
Eddie Rosario hit a two-run homer in the third inning. Aaron Hicks’ RBI single in the fourth made it 4-0. Eduardo Nunez and Hicks drew bases-loaded walks in the fifth, and Joe Mauer added a two-run homer in eighth, his first home run in 32 games and 149 plate appearances.
The Twins lost their shutout in the ninth when Glen Perkins, pitching in his second game after returning from injury, gave up a home run to Jett Bandy, who was making only his second major league plate appearance.
Duffey will remain in the rotation for now. And if he repeats Sunday’s outing, he might get another one. He said he hasn’t been around long enough for his opinion to matter, but his pitching speaks for itself.
“I can only do what they allow me to do,” Duffey said. “I’m going to keep going out there if they need me out there. If they want me to throw in the bullpen, I don’t care.’’