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Zulgad’s Roundup: Twins reliever Jhoan Duran brings the heat in impressive Opening Day debut

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Minnesota Twins
Apr 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Jhoan Duran (59) delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Twins fans didn’t have much to cheer about Friday afternoon in a 2-1 Opening Day loss against Seattle at Target Field, but there was one young pitcher who left everyone impressed. Rookie righthander Jhoan Duran put his electric stuff on display in his big-league debut.

Duran throws what is being called a “splinker” — a combination of a splitter and sinker — that is the product of a split-fingered grip on a pitch he throws as hard as he can. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Duran packs a real punch with the often-darting pitch and consistently hits the high 90s or 100 miles per hour.

Duran entered in relief of starter Joe Ryan in the fifth inning with the Mariners holding a 2-1 lead and gave up back-to-back singles to Ty France and Jesse Winker. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third.

Then Duran went to work.

Mitch Haniger, whose two-run homer in the first against Ryan was all the Mariners needed, struck out swinging on a 1-2 count that was recorded on a 99.7-mile-per-hour sinker. Strike two to Haniger came on a 100.1-mph sinker. Eugenio Suarez struck out swinging on three pitches, including a 99.5-mph sinker for strike three. Jarred Kelenic saw three pitches of 95.7 mph (splitter), 96.1 mph (splitter) and 100.3 mph (sinker) before an 87 mph curveball froze him on a third strike call from plate umpire Ron Kulpa that caused the announced crow of 35,462 to erupt.

Duran, acquired in the 2018 trade that sent Eduardo Escobar to Arizona, returned for the sixth inning and got another strikeout looking, a groundout, walked a batter and then got out of the inning with a groundout to third. Duran threw 11 pitches in his second inning of work and did not hit 100 on the radar gun, but he had made a favorable impression on a day in which it was only 45 degrees at first pitch.

“He was fantastic,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He settled in after the first couple of hitters and then everything we got after that was just fire. He was using all of his pitches, he was throwing strikes. The stuff translated from the Gulf Coast to Minnesota. He looked great and going out again after the first inning was important for him. Being able to slow it down again after all the adrenaline of getting through that inning. … It bodes well and he’s going to have more opportunities.”

Baldelli also discussed just how tough Duran is on opposing hitters.

“I think what makes him effective is he’s been pitching at like 99 to 101 (mph) with the split being a pitch that he’s thrown for a strike at times and throwing below the zone at times getting swings and misses,” Baldelli said. “That pitch is very different from maybe anything else in baseball. It’s a tough pitch to classify, even when you’re just watching it on TV or watching it from the side. It’s basically a split that’s moving like a split that’s 96 miles an hour. So hitters are going to just have to adjust on the fly when you’re facing a guy like that. But he has to harness it and showed he can do that today.”

  • Duran became the first Twins pitcher to throw at least two scoreless innings in relief and strike out at least four batters in his debut since Mike Walters on July 8, 1983 against Cleveland. Walters struck out four in 4.2 innings.
  • The announced attendance of 35,462 was the smallest for a Twins home opener with no attendance restrictions since they moved into Target Field. The 2020 opener against St. Louis was played before no fans because of COVID-19 and last season’s opener against Seattle was played before only 9,675 because attendance remained limited by the pandemic. The smallest crowd for a home opener before Friday came in 2014, when an announced crowd of 35,837 showed up to watch the Twins play Oakland.
  • The Twins were held to one run or fewer and four hits or fewer on Opening Day for only the third time in club history. The first time was April 5, 1988 at the Yankees (no runs and three hits) and the second time came on April 26, 1995 at Boston (no runs and two hits).
  • Eight of the Twins’ 13 home openers at Target Field have been played in less than three hours, including Friday’s game (2:53).
  • Sarah Johnson became the first female official scorer for a Twins home game on Friday. That made Johnson only the seventh female official scorer in big-league history and she was one of four female official scorers working Opening Days on Thursday and Friday.
  • The corner locker in the Twins’ clubhouse that had housed the well-respected Nelson Cruz is now the locker of shortstop Carlos Correa. The Twins are hoping that Correa not only provides excellence on the field, but also has a positive impact among his teammates off of it.
  • It’s looking as if the Wild will play either St. Louis or Nashville in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. That means their performance against either one of those teams needs to improve. Minnesota is 0-3 against the Predators and fell to 0-1-1 against the Blues after an overtime loss on Friday in St. Louis. The Wild held a 3-1 lead early in the third period before the Blues rallied to tie the score and then win in overtime on Robert Thomas’ goal against Cam Talbot. Kirill Kaprizov scored his 41st goal in the second period to pull within one of Marian Gaborik and Eric Staal’s single-season team record.
  • Former Twins Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, threw out the first pitches before Friday’s game. Former Twins great Kent Hrbek caught the ball from Oliva and former Twins manager Tom Kelly caught Kaat’s pitch.
  • The Vikings will open their offseason program under new coach Kevin O’Connell on Monday at TCO Performance Center. Because O’Connell is a first-year coach, he could have started the program last Monday but he elected to wait a week. The sessions that begin Monday will be voluntary. An on-field minicamp for rookies and tryout players will be held May 13-14 and Organized Team Activities, which allows for full-team on field work, will begin in mid-May. The Vikings’ three-day mandatory minicamp will be June 7-9.