Brian Duensing, bullpen star? For now, Cubs lefty quietly killing it
If you’re a fan of the Cubs bullpen’s home-run dances, as anyone with a pulse should be, then surely you’ve noticed Brian Duensing’s go-to move. He’s the one who shimmies, with his back to the camera, from side to side at the front of the bullpen mound.
‘‘I’ve thought about doing a new move here and there,’’ he said, ‘‘but I think when the time comes I panic. So I just stick with what I know.’’
Fortunately for the Cubs, the 34-year-old left-hander — easily one of the lowest-profile members of the most famous team in baseball — has been bringing a lot more to the dance as a pitcher. Duensing has given up two runs in his last 26 appearances, spanning 19 1/3 innings, for a 0.93 ERA.
Panic? Quite the opposite. Never in Duensing’s eight-plus seasons in the big leagues has he felt more confident and locked in.
Just one move? Please. This is a four-pitch guy who’s in command of all four pitches like almost never before. In one recent appearance, he greeted his first batter with a curveball at 72 mph, a fastball at 92 mph and a slider at 82 mph, all for strikes. Good luck with that.
‘‘I’ve got all four pitches that — knock on wood — are working at the same time,’’ he said. ‘‘That kind of gives me a little bit of an edge there to know, basically, how to get the guy out before I even get in there.’’
It would be nice if he could share his knowledge with fellow lefty Justin Wilson, who has been completely off the rails since being acquired from the Tigers at the trade deadline. If only Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Koji Uehara were as automatic as Duensing has been, the Cubs might be able to win another World Series with their eyes closed.
Aside from closer Wade Davis and rising star C.J. Edwards, Duensing might be the best thing the Cubs’ bullpen has going for it right now. A note for manager Joe Maddon’s suggestion box: How about using Duensing in some higher-leverage situations?
‘‘You could plug him in anywhere, anytime, and he’d get it done,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘No matter what, Duensing can handle it. I mean, Duensing? That’s one guy I don’t ever worry about.’’
Duensing’s baseball dreams have tended to be relatively modest. He didn’t see himself as a college player until his senior year of high school. While pitching at Nebraska, he looked forward to teaching high-school English. After not gaining much traction as a starting pitcher with the Twins early in his big-league career, he simply aimed to hang on for a long ride.
‘‘I’d love to get to 10 years and get that full pension,’’ he said. ‘‘Anything after that would be great.’’
There’ll be plenty of ‘‘after’’ if Duensing keeps shimmying along this smoothly. He’s certain he hasn’t felt this good on the mound since 2010, when he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA for the Twins. Believe it or not, he suspects his bullpen dancing has something to do with it.
‘‘I seriously do,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it helps me. This game is stressful enough. I think the fact that we’re able to allow ourselves to do ridiculous stuff like that, it kind of loosens you up and allows you to perform a little better.’’
It’s just nutty enough to be believable.
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