Zach Duke’s story is one that will probably make White Sox fans excited to have him in town.
Surely some were hesitant to hear that a guy who was nearly a washed out, spring training invitee a year ago managed to land a three-year, $15 million contract.
Duke explained to 670 The Score’s Patrick Mannelly and Matt Spiegel on Wednesday that he transformed his game last offseason by throwing his fastball and breaking ball with a sidearm motion. Now he can pitch over the top and sidearm to keep batters off balance and guessing.
“I was jobless and I was laying in the pool at my in-laws house and thinking ‘What am I gonna do to get back to the big leagues?’” Duke told the radio hosts. “I thought back to all my days on the farm and skipping rocks on our pond out there. I thought, you know, I’ve always toyed around with the sidearm stuff, so I thought I’d try it before calling it quits.
“Last offseason I got the repetition in and got more refined with my control of the sidearm stuff and feel like I can go to it anytime and know what the result is gonna be. It was effective at first because it was something different, but now I have the command of it. My fastball and breaking ball are now weapons. My breaking ball I can throw for a strike or bounce it. You add those two things in with my four pitches from a conventional, over-the-top delivery, you don’t know what’s coming. It has been effective for me.”
The White Sox will be Duke’s sixth team in 10 years.
He entered the majors as a starting pitching prospect with the Pirates in 2005, finished fifth in rookie of the year voting and never put another winning season together.
He went to a bullpen role with the Nationals in 2012 and 2013, with similarly poor results.
When he changed his delivery last season with the Brewers, Duke threw 58 2/3 innings with a 2.45 ERA.
“It’s just one of those things you do something like that and you realize baseball is fun again,” Duke said. “Why don’t I just trust myself. I just go out there and have fun on the mound and see if I can make a hitter look bad.”
Duke said he wasn’t sure what to expect from free agency this offseason but found plenty of interest.
“In talks with my agent we knew my situation was a little unique and that my numbers were really good for this first full stint as a reliever,” Duke said. “But I didn’t have the extended workload of a conventional reliever, so we didn’t know what to expect. But the interest was there from day one.
“That was a weird feeling. It was like being recruited for college all over again. It was an enjoyable experience. It was my first time in free agency that was fun. Most of the times I’m unemployed and stressing until January about what’s gonna happen.”
Duke sounds like exactly the sort of workmanlike player that will fit right into the White Sox culture and clubhouse.
And, obviously, they need some help in that bullpen.