CHICAGO – Jhoan Duran had an incredible rookie season.
He threw the fastest pitch in MLB this season a handful of times, ultimately reaching 103.8 miles per hour. He tossed an off-speed pitch 100.8 mph, which is unprecedented. He leads the American League in Win Probability Added at 4.6 and has a 2.4 Wins Above Replacement.
The 24-year-old's year couldn't have gone much better. Well, except for one tiny detail: He could have been a starter.
Duran had been one his whole career and trained with that mind-set during this past offseason. It wasn't until he arrived at spring training that he found out he'd be working out of the bullpen instead.
That transition happened with remarkable ease, with the Dominican Republic native posting a 1.86 ERA with 89 strikeouts and a 0.975 WHIP (walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched) in 67⅔ innings. He quickly pitched his way into clutch situations, earning eight saves. And while fans and pundits alike have heaped praise on the new reliever, he still yens to impact the game for longer than one or two innings at a time.
"Wherever they decide — if I'm going to be a starter again or stay in this role — it's going to be what it's going to be," Duran said in Spanish through an interpreter. "But I'm just going to be ready for whatever comes."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli addressed this exact topic not too long ago. And from his perspective, Duran likely won't be on the mound to start a game in 2023.
"With someone that's as good as he is, we're going to let him continue being as good as he is in that role," Baldelli said. "I don't see him moving back to the rotation right now. Am I the sole person in that conversation? No. But I think we're talking about one of the best in the world at what he does. I say let him run with it."
Ober and out
Bailey Ober ended his 2022 season in Monday's 3-2 loss to the White Sox on a run of four strong starts after coming back from a lengthy right groin injury.
In his 22⅓ innings pitched during that span, he established a 2.01 ERA while allowing only 12 hits, five earned runs and four walks, with 22 strikeouts.
"I feel like I'm only getting stronger out there. I feel really healthy right now," Ober said. "It's tough to miss that big chunk in the middle of the season, but it kind of feels like I'm ramping up again health-wise. But I feel really good, and now I'm just kind of happy that I was able to come back."
Because of the injury, Ober managed to start only 11 games this season. He dealt with a right hip strain late last season, too, his first in the majors. He plans to focus on injury prevention this offseason, working with his physical therapist on stretching or maybe some yoga.
But even with the setbacks, Ober said he still can view this year as somewhat of a success.
"You don't want to be out, away from the team, but … the best thing I was able to do was come back, finish strong," Ober said. "… To be coming off the IL straightaway and have success right after an injury, it feels pretty good.
"… I was hoping to come back for a playoff push. Obviously, things didn't work out our way. But it feels good to be able to come back and just remind people of who I am and what I can do."