Erratic Deduno settling into bullpen role

Pitching in relief is not new for Samuel Deduno, although seeing him come out of the bullpen is a new sight for Twins fans.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Kurt Suzuki was warned about Samuel Deduno.

The former was signed this offseason to take over the everyday catching duties for the Minnesota Twins. The latter was perhaps the most erratic — yet still effective — arm on the Twins’ pitching staff last year. While Deduno had one of the best strikeout rates of the starting rotation in 2013, he also walked a lot of batters.

That was a byproduct of the movement on Deduno’s pitches. When he throws, the ball sometimes has a mind of its own. That’s not always easy for Deduno’s battery mates.

"You can never get really comfortable because you never know what his ball’s going to do on a certain day," Suzuki said. "Sometimes it’ll cut, sometimes it’ll be sinking. It’s tough."

Added Deduno: "(Suzuki) caught me a couple games in spring training. He told me my fastball moves like crazy."

There was a chance Deduno and Suzuki would be working together every fifth day, as the right-hander was in a battle for the No. 5 spot in the Twins’ rotation in 2014. But Kyle Gibson ultimately won that battle and began the season as a starter, while Deduno was relegated to the bullpen.

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Deduno has already made four relief appearances this season, and Suzuki was behind the plate for three of them. It remains a bit of a learning process for the newest Twins catcher whenever he’s behind the dish for Deduno’s outings.

"He’s got a lot of movement on his ball. Nothing’s ever really right there," Suzuki said. "It’s always cutting or sinking or running. He’s very unpredictable."

Perhaps it’s that unpredictability that led some people to wonder whether Deduno was best suited for a spot in the bullpen. Over the course of a six or seven-inning start, Deduno’s wildness perhaps wouldn’t be as magnified. Walking a batter with nobody on base in the second inning is a bit different than walking a batter in a high-leverage situation with runners on base in the seventh or eighth inning.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Deduno early on during his time in the Twins’ bullpen. In his first relief outing of 2014, Deduno was called upon from the bullpen in the bottom of the 11th inning in a tie game against the Chicago White Sox. With the scored tied 6-6, Deduno gave up a leadoff single to Chicago’s Leury Garcia. Deduno was then called for a balk, sending Garcia to second with nobody out.

After recording the first out on a strikeout, Deduno fired a wild pitch that Suzuki couldn’t handle, which allowed Garcia to take third base. Another strikeout and an intentional walk brought Adam Dunn to the plate with two on and two out. Needing just one more out to escape the jam, the erratic Deduno sent another wild pitch toward home plate. Garcia scored the winning run, with Deduno on the hook for the loss.

"You saw the first few hitters he faced, we were like, ‘Oh, he’s got to pitch.’ But then as he got going, he found a nice release point and the ball was really getting to where he wanted it to and his fastball was moving," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "But early, it was a little bit rough. I think it’s an adjustment for him, but he’s going to have to make that adjustment."

Deduno has indeed settled into his role in the bullpen. His next outing after allowing the winning run to score on a wild pitch was a much better one. He pitched a scoreless inning against Cleveland, scattering two hits while striking out one.

A few days later, Deduno ran into a bit of trouble against Oakland. Entering a game in which the Twins already trailed by three, he surrendered a pair of runs but did strike out four A’s batters in 3 1/3 innings. Three days later in the series finale against Oakland, Deduno worked three scoreless innings, walking just one batter while lowering his ERA to 3.38.

Pitching in relief is not new for Deduno, although seeing him come out of the bullpen is a new sight for Twins fans. In his brief time in the majors before landing with Minnesota, Deduno pitched in six games with the Rockies and Padres, and all six came in relief.

Still, following two seasons as a starter for the Twins, it’s been a bit of an adjustment for Deduno to revert back to his role as a reliever.

"It’s not different, like to be a starter and be in the bullpen," Deduno said. "I just have to be ready almost every day mentally and physically, too. It’s pretty good."

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