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Twins designate long-tenured reliever Tyler Duffey for assignment

“There are decisions that have to be made,” Baldelli said. “This was one of them that was really hard. It took some time and some contemplation ..."

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Arizona Diamondbacks
Minnesota Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey pitches July 17, 2022, against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — It wasn’t too long ago that Tyler Duffey was a lights-out reliever, the fireman that manager Rocco Baldelli turned to to bail the Minnesota Twins out of jams.

But the Twins haven’t seen that level of performance this year, and Duffey’s time with the team — which began when he was drafted 10 years ago out of Rice University — came to an end on Friday when the Twins designated one of the longest-tenured members of the team for assignment.

While manager Rocco Baldelli called the decision “as tough as it gets,” given the emotional nature of it, he said it wasn’t necessarily the “most complicated of decisions.”

“There are decisions that have to be made,” Baldelli said. “This was one of them that was really hard. It took some time and some contemplation before we got there but we thought it was something that we had to do and therefore if we think it’s the right thing to do, we have to do it.”

Duffey had 4.91 earned-run average at the time the decision was made. It came after a game in which he surrendered a pair of inherited runs before allowing a three-run homer Thursday night to Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as a tight game between two playoff contenders turned into a blowout 9-3 loss.

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The veteran reliever was given the first crack at a save opportunity this season just days after his good friend Taylor Rogers was dealt to the Padres. But that resulted in a blown save, and while the righty eventually had a stretch of more than a month in which he did not give up a run, he was unable to recreate the type of performance he turned in over the past three seasons.

After converting to the bullpen full time, Duffey found his footing in the majors in 2019. He posted a 2.50 ERA that season, striking out 82 batters in 57 2/3 innings. During the truncated 2020 season, he had a 1.88 ERA and 0.795 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).

“It’s tough to see because you know he has a lot of ability. He’s got good stuff, he’s a guy that in general can execute … he’s capable of a lot of different things,” Baldelli said. “And honestly, if we saw those things that we know he’s capable of — and we tried different things and he’s made some adjustments along the way — but if we saw more of those things, the decision probably wouldn’t have been made.”

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BULLPEN SHAKEUP

News of Duffey’s fate came just days after the Twins parted ways with another veteran pitcher, Joe Smith, prompting an emotional time in the clubhouse, especially for the group of relievers who have spent so much time with both pitchers.

“It’s never easy. Two really good guys I’ve known for a long time, both of them,” lefty Caleb Thielbar said. “It’s tough. This game is a business, and you never really understand that until you get to this level, really.”

The Twins’ bullpen has been shapeshifting all season because of injury and underperformance, but it’s been especially shaken up this week because of the trade deadline. The Twins added a pair of new faces in Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez to help supplement the group.

Of the 10 relievers the Twins began the season with, only Thielbar, Jhoan Duran and Emilio Pagan remain on the active roster. Three — Duffey, Smith and Jharel Cotton — have been designated for assignment this week. Danny Coulombe and Jorge Alcala both have had season-ending surgery. And two more — Josh Winder and Jhon Romero — are on the injured list.

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“It’s hectic,” Thielbar said of the past few days in the bullpen. “It’s nothing unexpected, but yeah, it’s different.”

BRIEFLY

Third baseman Gio Urshela was out of the starting lineup for the second straight day on Friday. … Cotton and Aaron Sanchez both cleared waivers and will report to Triple-A St. Paul. … Max Kepler (toe) is eligible to come off the injured list on Saturday, which Baldelli said was “on the table.” Sunday is also a possibility for the outfielder. … Baldelli said he is not expecting Winder or Bailey Ober, both injured, to return to the Twins this month. … … Catcher Jose Godoy was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. … Reliever Joe Smith cleared waivers and was released. Olympic gold medal gymnast Suni Lee threw out the first pitch at Friday night’s game.

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