Twins’ Jhoan Duran Uses ‘Splinker’ To Flummox Hitters

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Three of Jhoan Duran’s pitches are easy to identify. There’s his four-seam fastball, which rides through the zone in the upper 90s. Then there’s his changeup, which tilts away from hitters in the high 80s, as well as his low-80s curveball.

His fourth pitch, however, is a little trickier. Duran holds the pitch like a split-finger fastball and throws it like a four-seamer, but it behaves like neither of those pitches. Instead, the low- to mid-90s pitch acts like a violent sinker, with diving, running life.

Scouts have called the pitch “nasty” and “devastating” and have watched all year as the Twins’ prospect has used it to befuddle hitters in the high Class A Florida State League. 

The pitch itself was invented when Duran was with the D-backs, who were trying to diversify his arsenal.

“I was trying to learn a sinker,” Duran said after his final start before a promotion to Double-A Pensacola on July 25. “But the sinker was doing the same thing as my four-seam, so I changed the grip a little bit, which allowed me to throw the type of pitch that I’m throwing now.”

By widening his fingers, Duran started getting more action on the ball and hitters started swinging and missing or beating the ball into the ground. His swinging-strike (14.9) and ground ball (52.9) percentages were each among the top 10 in the Florida State League at the time of his promotion.

Last summer, Duran—along with teammates Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel—was dealt from Arizona, which signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, in the deal that sent Eduardo Escobar from the Twins to the D-backs.

When asked to describe the difference in philosophies between the two clubs, Duran noted that Arizona’s main focal point was getting him to command his arsenal. The Twins, on the other hand, have worked with him to create a package of pitches that complements one another.

“They wanted something that will shape better with my fastball,” Duran said. “I’ve got a pretty good fastball with (riding) movement to it, so I’m trying to make a pitch that pairs better with that fastball.”

For example, when Duran left Arizona his breaking ball could be classified as a slider or a slurve. The Twins have helped him shape the pitch into a true curveball with north-south action so he can work the top half of the zone with his fastball and then dip into the bottom half with his curveball, which comes in between 15-18 mph slower.

His final start as a member the high Class A Fort Myers pitching staff was played in front of a total of eight fans, all of whom were family members or friends of players. That group was outnumbered by scouts, plenty of whom represented clubs who could potentially be sellers at next week’s trade deadline.

It’s been less than a year since he was traded for the first time, and he knows there’s a distinct possibility it could happen again in a few days. For now, though, all he can do is pitch to the best of his abilities. 

“I don’t focus on what’s going on outside of baseball,” he said. “I’m just focusing on my work. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

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