Tyler Duffey has been with the Twins ever since the organization took him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.
But his tenure with the team likely came to an end Friday, as the Twins designated him for assignment after a season of struggling out of the bullpen.
The 31-year-old righthander was one of a trio of Twins relievers who each gave up three runs in Thursday's 9-3 loss to Toronto. And while Emilio Pagan and Trevor Megill were still in uniform for Friday's game against the Blue Jays, Duffey's locker in the clubhouse was empty.
"That decision is as tough as it gets," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the "emotional" move. "… There are decisions that have to be made. 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."
The Texas native has been a fixture in the Twins bullpen for half a decade. He debuted in 2015 as a starter, transitioning to a relief role two years later. His two strongest seasons were in 2019 — when he put up a 2.50 ERA in 57⅔ innings — and the pandemic-shortened 2020, where he had a 1.88 ERA through 24 innings.
But this season has been among his worst. In 44 innings, he tallied a 4.91 ERA with three blown saves. His first appearance this year was one of those, when he gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth inning in a 4-3 loss to Seattle. Three games later against Kansas City, he did the same.
He blew another game against the Royals on May 26, giving up four hits and three runs with a walk for another one-run loss. He did have a stretch of 13 games through June and July when he didn't give up a run and picked up just the sixth save of his career. But he began to trend downward again taking the loss — for a 4-2 season record — at Milwaukee on July 26 before giving up a three-run homer in his next appearance at San Diego a week ago.
Duffey pitched a clean inning against Detroit on Tuesday, but in the final 1⅔ innings of Thursday's game, he surrendered four hits — including a homer, the eighth off him this season — as well as a walk along with his three runs.
"Never imagined growing up that I'd end up in a Minnesota Twins uniform and become a proud snowbird for the last 8 seasons," Duffey wrote in a text message to the Star Tribune. "Forever grateful for the opportunity provided to me by the Twins. In a blink, I went from E-Town in 2012 with a bunch of future All Stars, to being an old guy in the clubhouse today.
"My family and I have made life-long friends with some incredible people here. What I've learned here will continue to help me on the journey ahead.''
Another team can claim Duffey off waivers. If that doesn't happen, he can either accept an assignment with the Twins' Class AAA affiliate and stay in the Twin Cities to play for the Saints. But he will more likely elect free agency and sign elsewhere.
The Twins also Thursday officially released Joe Smith, a veteran reliever who joined the team in spring training. The trade deadline brought in new relievers in Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez, but fellow bullpen arm Caleb Thielbar said the turnover is always hard to see.
"It's never easy. Two really good guys I've known for a long time, both of them. So it's tough," Thielbar said, adding he loved them like brothers. "This game is a business, and you never really understand that until you get to this level, really. But that's just how it goes. I mean, it's happened to me. It's going to happen to everyone in here. So you just have to move forward and just move on to the next day."
In Duffey's absence, the Twins called up Cole Sands, a righthander who has appeared in five games with three starts for the Twins this year. Pitchers Jharel Cotton and Aaron Sanchez, also recent DFAs, cleared waivers Friday and accepted assignments with the Saints. Pittsburgh claimed catcher Jose Godoy, though.
Kepler, Miranda updates
Baldelli said right fielder Max Kepler could potentially return Saturday, the first day he is eligible to come off the injured list for his broken toe. Kepler took batting practice ahead of the game Friday.
"He's going to have to feel comfortable being able to run, make plays, slide, swing the bat, do everything he needs to do," Baldelli said. "But I think we're in a pretty good spot right now with Kep."
Jose Miranda took a pitch off his left wrist in Thursday's game and still has some swelling and bruising. But an X-ray on Friday did not reveal any fracture, and the hot hitter was able to make the Friday lineup at third base.
"We may have dodged something there," Baldelli said. "I was anticipating him being pretty banged-up coming. … It did hit him pretty squarely. He did have a piece of padding on that batting glove, just by chance, where he got hit. I think it might even have been an emblem of the brand or whatever it is. I don't know if that helped or not. But maybe it did."
Star Tribune staff writer Patrick Reusse contributed to this report.