1/14/2014 8:07 P.M. ET
All of a sudden, Duensing among Twins veterans
Out on Winter Caravan, reliever talks about being in more of a leadership role in 2014
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
SPENCER, Iowa -- It's no secret the Twins have had their fair share of turnover in recent years.
In fact, just three players on the roster have been with the club for each of the last five seasons, as Joe Mauer is the longest-tenured Twins player and is followed by closer Glen Perkins and left-hander Brian Duensing.
Mauer and Perkins were both All-Stars in 2013, but Duensing quietly had a solid season in relief, posting a 3.98 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 61 innings. Duensing, who officially filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday, is expected to be another critical bullpen piece for the Twins next year, but even he can't believe he's now one of the club's veterans.
"It's crazy to think about that," said Duensing, who is currently in the midst of his fourth Winter Caravan throughout the Upper Midwest. "Even though I could be considered a veteran on this team, I don't think of myself like that. I still remember guys like Mauer and [Justin] Morneau teaching me how to play the game the right way coming up. They were the veterans. So for me to have that much time with the Twins is odd. It's gone by fast."
But the ever-humble Duensing said he's not afraid to lead by example this season, as he's one of the club's lone holdovers from their playoff appearances in 2009 and 2010 before their run of struggles starting in '11. He's not an overly vocal player but said he can pass on things he learned from former Twins relievers such as Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier.
"I feel like I could be," Duensing said. "I'm not the guy who's going to be vocal or the guy who shoves it down another's throat. I mean, I could be if needed. But I'm not necessarily first in line for that. But I have no problem teaching some of the younger pitchers how we go about our business."
Duensing, who pitched in the postseason in both '09 and '10, added he believes the Twins can surprise next season. The Twins signed starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes via free agency while also re-signing Mike Pelfrey and signing former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel to a Minor League deal.
Duensing said it'll be on the players to provide leadership in the clubhouse to help move away from the last three years that saw the Twins lose at least 96 games.
"I think we're on the right track," Duensing said. "I think we need some structure with the team itself. Not with the manager or anything like that, but we're going to need some leaders. We need to be on the same page on how we need to go about our business and how we need to play and stick to some roles."
Duensing knows all too well about established roles, as he's bounced between starting and relieving throughout his career with the Twins. But last year was his first full season in the bullpen, and it helped him settle in to a comfortable role, as he didn't have to worry about switching roles during the season.
But the Twins still haven't fully ruled out stretching Duensing out as a starter during Spring Training, as the fifth spot is still up for grabs after Kevin Correia, Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey.
The Twins also have other options for that fifth spot, including Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond -- who are all out of options -- so it appears more likely Duensing will remain in the bullpen. But he said he's up for whatever the Twins ask of him. So far, however, the Twins haven't officially told him what to expect for next season
"I've heard rumors I could be in the mix for that last spot but then I've also seen reports where I haven't been mentioned at all," Duensing said. "I'm just prepared to throw and we'll see how it goes."
Duensing, who began his throwing program on Dec. 1, is now in the midst of dealing with his contract status for next season.
He filed for arbitration on Tuesday, and the Twins have been in dialogue with him in recent weeks about a deal for next year, as the Twins are expected to settle with Duensing and avoid a hearing. Duensing is expected to make roughly $2 million in arbitration.
But Duensing isn't worried about the process, and is instead focusing on what he can improve on for next season, as he uncharacteristically struggled against left-handed hitters last year after faring well against them in '12. Lefties hit .303 against him in '13, after batting .250 against him the previous year.
"I need to get lefties out better," Duensing said. "It could've just been a freak thing and I was fine getting righties out. So for me it's all about consistency and location. I can get strikeouts here and there but I'm a guy who needs to keep hitters off-balance, especially lefties. So I'll go from there."