fb-pixel Skip to main content
Sunday baseball notes

The Twins’ Jhoan Duran and his ‘splinker’ pitch are fast becoming concerns for major league hitters

Per Statcast, Jhoan Duran recently reached triple digits with an offspeed pitch, the first time that has happened in the pitch-tracking era.Tim Heitman/Getty

Xander Bogaerts has played professional baseball for 13 years. It’s rare when anything on the field catches him by surprise.

That is until he faced Twins rookie reliever Jhoan Duran on Monday night.

Duran threw Bogaerts a 103.4-mile-per-hour four-seam fastball that he fouled off to go down, 0 and 2, in the count. It was the second-fastest pitch thrown in the majors this season. Jordan Hicks of the Cardinals hit 103.8 on July 7.

“I felt pretty good about fouling it off,” Bogaerts said. “I mean, that was fast. But I saw it coming in.”

Duran threw two curveballs off the plate that Bogaerts took. The next pitch was another four-seamer. Or so Bogaerts thought.


“I had my eyes on it. I felt good,” he said. “Then it disappeared.”

Duran threw Bogaerts a 98.6-m.p.h. pitch that suddenly dropped as it approached the plate. Bogaerts swung over it, striking out on something he was prepared to hammer.

It was what the Twins call a splinker, a hybrid split-finger fastball and sinker that the 24-year-old Duran throws with uncommon velocity.

“I’ve never seen a pitch like that,” Bogaerts said. “It was there and then it vanished.”

The next batter, Rafael Devers, saw a 103-m.p.h. fastball from Duran that he swung through. Duran then threw him a 100.8-m.p.h. splinker that Devers took for a ball.

Per Statcast, that was the first offspeed pitch to reach triple digits in the pitch-tracking era.

Yes, offspeed. Major League Baseball’s Statcast system views the pitch as a split-finger fastball and that’s considered an offspeed pitch.

“If that’s a splitter, that’s offspeed and that’s pretty awesome to think somebody could throw it like that,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said. “What pitchers are doing now is amazing.”

Until Duran came along, the fastest recorded split-finger in history was thrown by Jeurys Familia in 2015, when he hit 96.3 m.p.h. while facing Bryce Harper.


Familia was pitching for the Mets then. He’s now with the Red Sox.

Few pitches can throw heat quite like Jhoan Duran.David Berding/Getty

“I can’t believe he hit 100,” Familia said. “It’s got to be the grip. If you move your fingers a little closer you can throw it harder. But that’s still more of a sinker. He’s throwing a splitter with how it moves.

“I give him credit. That’s a great pitch. I wish I could do that.”

Dylan Bundy, who started for the Twins on Monday, laughed about the pitch after the game.

“That’s unheard of,” he said. “He deserves a cake.”

So that’s what the Twins did. Duran received a white cake with green frosting the next day from Bundy. It said, “Felicidades! 100.8 m.p.h. splinker!”

(That’s “congratulations” in Spanish.)

Through Friday, Duran had a 1.87 earned run average and 74 strikeouts over 57⅔ innings (49 appearances). He credits his outrageous velocity to having come up as a starter before moving into the bullpen.

“I think the difference is, when I was a starter, I used to throw it slower,” he said. “Now that I’m a reliever, I have more time in between [games] and it’s harder.”

Minnesota’s bullpen is the key to its playoff hopes. The Twins acquired closer Jorge Lopez (Orioles) and setup man Michael Fulmer (Tigers) at the trade deadline. That allows manager Rocco Baldelli to use Duran in high-leverage situations as needed.

His velocity and that unhittable pitch are a sensation at Target Field.


“That pumps you up like very few things I’ve ever seen from a pitcher, ever, since I’ve been in baseball,” Baldelli said. “It fires you up, watching the way he goes about doing his job.

“There are good pitchers. And the end goal is to get three outs. That’s really what we’re asking guys to do. There are a lot of different ways to do that. But, my God, that is some insane stuff going on out there when he takes the mound.”

Red Sox batters were 4 for 16 with one walk and nine strikeouts against Duran this season. Opponents have hit .200 against him overall.

“He’s got tremendous stuff,” Bogaerts said. “All I could do was tip my cap.”


Minor league union could change game

Tony Clark and the MLBPA may be representing minor leaguers in the near future, too.Morry Gash

The MLB Players Association sent “authorization cards” to minor league players inviting them to vote on joining the union.

If 30 percent of the players agree, a formal vote will be held by the roughly 5,400 players. If it’s a high percentage of approval, MLB could agree to recognize the new union at that point rather than wait for a formal election run by the National Labor Relations Board.

The league might actually prefer a union as the minor leaguers would have to negotiate with MLB rather than filing lawsuits. That also could head off more attention from Congress regarding baseball’s antitrust exemption.

This should be a positive step to further improve working conditions for prospects, something big league teams should have done years ago before they were shamed into acting by advocacy groups.


But minor leaguers are a disparate, ever-changing group. The average minor league career is less than three years. Some players enter the system having just accepted eight-figure signing bonuses. Others receive only a uniform and a chance.

Red Sox shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer, for instance, was signed for $6.6 million. Greenville teammate Joe Davis signed for $5,000. Their needs are a lot different.

For every 22-year-old college player there’s a dozen 16-year-old Latin American players who are housed and fed at academies in the Dominican Republic.

Where will the union leadership come from? Veteran players such as Andrew Miller and Max Scherzer were key figures in the lockout last spring. No one minor leaguer has that kind of sway.

How that group can be represented by one bargaining unit remains to be seen. MLB has taken steps to improve housing, travel, and food for US-based teams. That makes sense from a developmental standpoint and for giving the players a decent quality of life as opposed to sleeping on air mattresses in overcrowded apartments.

Any minor league agreement would be independent of the MLB collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated last spring.


Scout made sure to see Kelly’s debut

Former D2 pitcher Zack Kelly made his major league debut for the Red Sox on Tuesday night.Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Neil Avent has been an amateur scout for the Athletics for 17 years, covering North Carolina and South Carolina. He has signed 10 big leaguers over the years, Sean Doolittle and Chad Pinder among them.

Avent doesn’t see major league games in person very often, but he made sure to be at the Red Sox-Twins game on Monday night in Minneapolis.


The Sox had called up righthander Zack Kelly, who Avent signed for the Athletics in 2017. Kelly pitched for Division 2 Newberry College in South Carolina and wasn’t one of the 1,215 players drafted that year.

But Avent convinced his bosses to give Kelly a chance and Oakland signed him as a free agent for $500.

“He dealt with injuries in college, but I always thought he could pitch,” Avent said. “Zack was one of those guys you just saw something.”

Oakland released Kelly after one season. But Avent stayed in touch over the years and was one of the first people to text him when Kelly was promoted. He then hopped a flight to Minneapolis.

“He’s one of my guys,” Avent said. “I had to be here.”

Kelly came in for the seventh inning and struck out the first two batters he faced. The third singled but was thrown out stealing.

It was hard to say who was smiling more after the game, Kelly or Avent.

With the help of Twins assistant communications director Nina Zimmerman, Avent made it down to the visitors’ clubhouse. When Kelly heard Avent was there, he left the clubhouse still wearing his uniform and gave the scout a big hug.

“He believed in me,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Now the trick for Kelly will be to stay in the major leagues.

“His changeup is a weapon,” Alex Cora said. “We think he can help us.”

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

▪ ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel wrote an interesting and objective piece ranking teams based on the talent they have under contract through 2024.

He had the Blue Jays (5), Rays (11), Orioles (13), and Yankees (16) well ahead of the Red Sox (24).

This was based on the high probability that Xander Bogaerts opts out of his contract. The Sox have no elite talent locked up in McDaniel’s estimation and the only above-average players are Trevor Story and Chris Sale.

Given his injury history, listing Sale as above average is based more on the past than the future.

It was further evidence of just how much work the Sox have to do this winter.

It seems like Tommy Pham wasn't invited back to the fantasy football league over which he slapped Joc Pederson a few months ago.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Eric Hosmer is part of a fantasy football league that includes Shane Bieber, Alex Bregman, Mike Napoli, Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Joc Pederson, Mike Trout, and Christian Yelich.

Yes, this is the same league that led to Tommy Pham slapping Pederson over alleged cheating and getting a three-game suspension from MLB.

The league requires a $10,000 buy-in.

Jake Diekman had 17 strikeouts in his first 9⅔ innings for the White Sox but also walked eight and allowed 12 hits. Chaim Bloom, who has taken a beating this summer, did well to dump Diekman (and the $4.5 million he was owed beyond this season) for catcher Reese McGuire and a prospect.

▪ Double A Portland is putting tickets for any potential home playoff games on sale on Tuesday at noon. Tickets can be purchased at seadogs.com, at Hadlock Field, or by calling 207-879-9500.

David Ortiz hasn’t passed on many endorsement opportunities in recent years, which is certainly his right. But was cutting a deal with the renegade LIV Golf tour necessary?

Ortiz made a video welcoming fans to the event at The International in Bolton. LIV Golf is financed by the Saudi Arabian government, which is known for human rights abuses, including the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Greedy golfers have taken the Saudi blood money. A new Hall of Famer should be above that.

Dodgers will be right at home

Because the schedule had to be adjusted for the lockout, the Dodgers end their season with six consecutive games against the last-place Rockies, all at home.

In all, the Dodgers end their season with 14 of 17 games at Dodger Stadium. The only road games are at San Diego, 2½ hours away by bus.

The Dodgers, barring some apocalyptic collapse, will have a bye for the first round of the playoffs and host the first two games of the Division Series.

So outside of three days, they will be home from Sept. 19 to Oct. 12.

It’s a perfect scenario for manager Dave Roberts to give players time off to prepare for the postseason, much in the same way Cora did with the 2018 Red Sox.

Thanks to the schedule, the Dodgers should be healthy and have their pitching lined up. The lockout played to their advantage.

Extra bases

Shohei Ohtani keeps making two-way history.Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Shohei Ohtani is the first player in history to hit at least 30 home runs and win at least 10 games as a pitcher in a season. The closest Babe Ruth came was in 1919, when he clubbed 29 homers for the Red Sox and won nine games on the mound. Ruth, of course, was traded to the Yankees after that season. There’s a decent chance Ohtani will be traded after this season and the Yankees would surely be interested … Speedy outfielder Terrance Gore has World Series rings with the 2015 Royals and 2021 Braves, and played two regular-season games for the 2020 Dodgers. Maybe that explains why the Mets called him up on Aug. 31 … The Cubs went into the weekend 21-19 since the All-Star break. That success came despite trading key relievers Scott Effross, Mychal Givens, and David Robertson. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer credits manager David Ross with keeping the team together after the trade deadline. “We’ve been playing really good baseball in spite of the fact that we traded — I traded — our bullpen away,” Hoyer told reporters … Infielder Hanser Alberto has made six appearances on the mound for the Dodgers. He needs one more for the major league record by a non-pitcher. All six of his appearances have come in the ninth inning of games the Dodgers won by lopsided scores … Mets manager Buck Showalter seems to have marketing baseball all figured out. “I’ve got to tell you, when we have a full house, I want the hot dogs to be hot, I want the beer to be cold, I want the parking not to be a problem, I want them to leave here and go, ‘Boy, that was worth it and I want to come again,’ ” he said … Bob Ryan, ever the observant baseball fan, noted that when the Rays played at Fenway Park last Sunday, their starting lineup included players from seven countries: Colombia (Harold Ramírez), Cuba (Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz), the Dominican Republic (Manuel Margot, Jose Siri), Mexico (Isaac Paredes), Panama (Christian Bethancourt), the United States (Corey Kluber, Taylor Walls), and Venezuela (David Peralta). The Rays also had Ji-Man Choi (South Korea) and Yu Chang (Taiwan) on their bench … Luke Farrell, John Farrell’s son, is a study in perseverance. The 31-year-old righthander made it back to the majors with the Cubs on Aug. 24. Farrell has played for the Royals, Reds, Rangers, Twins, and Cubs (twice) since being drafted in 2013 out of Northwestern after twice overcoming cancer. He has appeared in 66 major league games … Serena Williams won a US Open match on Aug. 29, 2001. Albert Pujols homered for the Cardinals that day. In other games, Dante Bichette, Craig Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero had at least one hit. On Wednesday, 21 years later, Williams won a US Open match, Pujols homered for the Cardinals, and the sons of Bichette (Bo), Biggio (Cavan), and Guerrero (Vladimir Jr.) all had at least one hit … Happy birthday to Ken Harrelson, who is 81. “Hawk” played for the Red Sox from 1967-69. He was an All-Star in 1968 and finished third in the MVP voting, hitting 35 homers and driving in 109 runs. Harrelson broke his leg during spring training in 1972 and retired from baseball to become a professional golfer. He returned to the Red Sox as a broadcaster from 1975-81 before moving to the White Sox. That led to his becoming Chicago’s executive vice president of baseball operations in 1985. His decisions included firing manager Tony La Russa and assistant GM Dave Dombrowski. Soon after, Harrelson was back in the booth and stayed there until 2018. Sun-Woo Kim is 45. The righthander appeared in 35 games for the Red Sox from 2001-02 before being traded to the Expos for Cliff Floyd.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.