ST. PAUL, Minn. — Throughout his entire major league career, left-hander Brian Duensing has done whatever the Minnesota Twins have asked him to do. Sixty-one times, that meant taking the mound to start a game. But his other 103 appearances have come in relief.
Now, the 29-year-old Duensing is preparing for spring training with one objective in mind.
“Mentally, I’m going in there trying to win a starting spot,” Duensing said this week during a stop on the Twins’ Winter Caravan. “Obviously if I get put in the bullpen, I know what’s going on there too. Either way, it’s not going to be a shock.”
Duensing made 11 starts for Minnesota last year and 44 relief appearances. His numbers were much different in the bullpen compared to his outings as a starter. As a reliever, Duensing had a 3.47 ERA. Opponents batted just .236 off him when he came out of the bullpen. He also posted a WHIP of 1.140 in 57 innings of relief.
It was a much different story as a starter, however. His ERA jumped to 6.92, while opponents’ batting average jumped to .336. His WHIP as a starter was 1.692.
Quite the disparity between the two roles, but Duensing has had success as a starter in the past, going 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts back in 2010. He’s still hopeful he can break camp in the Twins’ starting rotation.
“I’m going to approach it as a starter again, because for me that’s easier to be ready to go as a starter and convert down to reliever as opposed to the other way around,” he said. “I do whatever they ask me to. I’ve done both.”
Cracking the starting rotation won’t be as easy this spring as it was a year ago. Minnesota acquired several starting pitchers in the offseason. The Twins traded center fielder Ben Revere to Philadelphia in exchange for 25-year-old right-hander Vance Worley, as well as prospect Trevor May. They also signed veteran free agents Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia this winter. Those two, plus Worley, are expected to join left-hander Scott Diamond in the starting rotation.
But that leaves one open spot, and it’s one Duensing is gunning for. But he’ll have to compete against a handful of other pitchers who will all be vying for that final spot.
“It’s obviously tougher just because the amount of spots that are there,” Duensing said. “It doesn’t change my mental approach or anything like that. I don’t think my chances are any less. I’ve just got to work a little harder.”
Duensing began his offseason throwing program on Dec. 3, a little earlier than normal due to the earlier starting date for spring training this year. He’s spent his offseason in his native Nebraska, enjoying the precious family time with his wife, Lisa, and their 1-year-old daughter, McKenna, that he doesn’t otherwise get during a busy Major League Baseball season.
Soon, Duensing will leave Nebraska again to join his Twins teammates in Fort Myers, Fla. He’ll do so with more experience as a reliever under his belt, but with the goal of earning a spot in the rotation this spring.
“I kind of figured out what was going on, how to do relieving and stuff,” Duensing said. “I’d definitely prefer to start, but anything they need me to do.”