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March 18, 2011

Prospectus Q&A

Brian Duensing

by David Laurila

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Brian Duensing is out to prove that his 2010 season was a sign of things to come and not a luck-influenced anomaly. The 28-year-old southpaw began last year in the Twins’ bullpen, only to move into the starting rotation after the All-Star break and impress to the tune of an 8-2 record in 13 starts. He was no less effective as a reliever, as his overall totals included a 10-3 record and a 2.62 ERA in 53 appearances. It was a heady first full big-league campaign, but two numbers offer a cautionary tale going forward: a .272 BABIP and a 5.37 K/9 rate.

Duensing, who is penciled into the Minnesota rotation, talked about his game, including the relevance of his BABIP, earlier this week.

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David Laurila: Are you a stereotypical lefty?

Brian Duensing: Yes. I’m not going to overpower anybody. I pitch to contact. I’m kind of a thumber, where when I get in trouble in a game, I usually go to the off-speed type stuff. Being a thumber is kind of like you just flip stuff up there all the time.

Off the field I’ve got a weird sense of humor. I’m just kind out there a bit mentally. So yeah, I think that’s the stereotypical lefty.

DL: Is pitching simple or complicated?

BD: It’s very simple, but we make it more complicated than what it is. I don’t know; I mean, you’ve got to just throw the ball over the plate, but somehow we make it harder than that.

We over-think things. We try to be too perfect all the time, trying to throw the best pitch all the time, as opposed to just throwing it over the plate. Next thing you know, you’re behind in the count and you’ve got to throw the pitch the hitters want. Then you’re just in a big hole.

DL: Besides throwing strikes, what is your approach when you go out to the mound?

BD: Wow. That is actually my usual approach, to throw strikes. I go out trying to give the team a chance to win by going deep into the game and having a close score. I don’t try and throw shutouts; I don’t try and strike everybody out. I don’t try and make some unbelievable appearance. I’m just kind of boring. I go out there and try to get the job done.

I throw a lot of sinkers, and the ball really dives down to the ground, so I get a lot of ground balls that way. That’s basically how I do it. Let them try and hit it. It’s really hard for a hitter to hit a round ball and get a hit at the same time, so I throw sinkers up there. If you make sure the ball is moving in any direction, you have a good shot at getting an out.

DL: Is the sinker your most important pitch?

BD: Yeah. Absolutely. After that it would be my changeup, because it has the same movement as my fastball and the same arm speed. It’s just slower, so it’s hard for a hitter to see it.

DL: You threw 59 percent fastballs last year, 19 percent sliders, and 15 percent changeups. Do you see that ratio changing at all?

BD: No, hopefully it will be the same. I feel like the fastball is the most important pitch and the best pitch in the game. It’s really hard for a hitter to react to the fastball—they have less time to react—so I feel that it is the best pitch.

DL: Is 15 percent low if your changeup is an important pitch for you?

BD: No, because I feel like I can throw it in any count for a strike. I might have a lower percentage of throwing it, but I didn’t need to throw it as often, whereas with the slider I may be missing more often and need to throw it again.

DL: Is your changeup a swing-and-miss pitch, or primarily something to get hitters off-balance?

BD: It’s just an off-balance pitch. Sometimes I’ll get a swing and miss, but more often they’ll hit it off the end of the bat or they’ll roll it over and drive it right into the ground. If I leave it up in the zone, it gets hit really hard. Other than that, it’s just to get them off-balance. It’s a circle. I go with the two-seam fastball, and I hold it the same way but as a circle-change.

DL: Do you rely much on charts and video?

BD: I look at video, but I don’t look at numbers. If I’m looking at a team that I’m about to face, I’ll watch how other left-handed starters have been getting them out. We have this video thing where I can type in “all left-handed starters versus this team” and I’ll look at the certain guys that I feel have the same type of arm speed, velocity, pitch sequence, or pitch repertoire as myself. But if I start looking at too many numbers, I tend to start throwing to hitters’ weaknesses instead of my own strengths and that’s when things don’t go very well.

DL: How differently do you attack lefties than righties?

BD: Lefties are going to be more fastballs in and sliders away. Righties are going to be more sliders down and in and fastballs away, and changeups. I don’t really throw changeups to lefties. My curveball is really just a get-ahead curveball, so I don’t throw that to either guy. I’m more in to lefties and more away to righties.

DL: Why don’t you throw your changeup to lefties?

BD: Because it runs back in toward them. If it’s up in the zone, it’s easier for the bat head to get out there and put a good swing on it.

DL: What about back-dooring a hitter with your changeup?

BD: I’m not that good.

DL: Your batting average on balls in play last year was notably low. Were you maybe a little lucky?

BD: Oh, absolutely. There’s a lot of luck involved in the game of baseball and in pitching. There are a lot of times where I threw a fastball down the middle… it happened today where I threw a couple of fastballs right down the middle and they popped them up or hit them right into the ground. I got lucky, but I’ll take luck over a lot of things.

DL: If your BABIP goes up this year, which it likely will, is there anything you’ll do differently as a result?

BD: I might change a couple of my pitch sequences. Usually if I feel like guys are getting really good hits, then they’re not really being kept off-balance. I feel like they’re comfortable in the box, so that means I’d have to change my approach and maybe go in a little bit more often if they’re putting really good swings on it or if they’re diving across the plate. So yeah, there will be adjustments made, but I’m still not going to try strike guys out to offset that.

DL: Are strikeouts at all important to you?

BD: No. I mean, every once in a while if you need that big one, it’s nice to be able to get it, but to me, I’m not a strikeout guy, so it’s not important. I’m 86 to 88—92 on a good day—and you don’t strike too many guys out that way. For me to save my pitch count, and go deep into the game, I have to get some quick outs. For that to happen, they have to put the ball in play, so I’ve got to throw it over the plate and hope they hit it into the ground.

DL: How different of a pitcher are you as a starter than you were as a reliever?

BD: As a starter, I have to throw all four of my pitches—fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider—whereas when I was a reliever I was coming in as a lefty specialist and it was basically fastball-slider, and that was about it. It took two pitches away from me, for the most part. I’ve got a little bit more to work with as a starter.

DL: When do you use your curve?

BD: I throw it every once in a while, like to get ahead of a hitter, maybe on 0-0. I don’t ever throw it in warm-ups. I just flip it up there to kind of catch them off-guard and maybe I’ll get a bad swing on one out of nowhere. I just use it early in counts, basically, or when they’re not looking for it.

DL: Do you pitch to the ballpark at all?

BD: Sometimes, yeah. Wind plays a big factor, too. If it’s a big park to the right side of the field, I’m going to go into lefties and let them try to yank it and pull it and see what happens. But for the most part I don’t think of myself as good enough to try and do that. I really just try and get by with throwing strikes. I know it’s really lame and boring, but if I try to do anything more specific or more fancy, that’s when I start getting into trouble.

DL: How different of a pitcher are you today than you were a few years ago?

BD: I’d say that I’m a lot more mature of the game and game situations. I’m understanding what a hitter is trying to do at a certain time, as opposed to two years ago when I was kind of oblivious and just throwing whatever the catcher called. I was throwing without really thinking about it. Now, I have a pitch planned ahead of time and try and get on the same page. I kind of think about the game a little more while I’m pitching.

DL: How ready are you for the upcoming season?

BD: I think I’m ready to go, although there are a couple things I want to mess with a little bit. I don’t really feel that comfortable on the mound right now balance-wise, but otherwise things are going well. I feel like conditioning-wise I’m strong and ready. I’ve just got to work on a couple things to really feel comfortable on the mound.

DL: Can you elaborate on not feeling comfortable balance-wise?

 BD: Every time I throw, I feel like I’m falling backwards or falling forwards. I don’t really feel sturdy to where I know just where the ball is going. I kind of feel like I’m a bit more lateral; I’m rotating laterally instead of up and down, so my ball is kind of flat rather than sinking. Basically, I’m not in the zone yet, but I’m getting there.  

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