CLEARWATER, FL – Ryan Duke gets to the diamond at the Carpenter Complex at six in the morning, eager for practice.
The former star closer from the University of Oklahoma currently plays in Double-A for the Philadelphia Phillies, and has been rehabbing a right elbow injury for a month that hampered him at the end of last year.
Duke feels more comfortable with his elbow, hoping to continue his path to the majors.
“In the off-season I worked out a little bit more, started throwing a little bit earlier, so hopefully I can get through a full season healthy,” he said.
Duke’s first full season in the minors in 2012 was a successful one. He started at A-Ball and moved up all the way to Triple-A for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where he pitched for two innings before ultimately being moved to the Reading Fightin Phils in the Double-A Eastern League.
He credited his former university for his early minor-league success.
“It shaped me, because when I went to Oklahoma my freshman year I was a starter, and then after my freshman year I became a closer, so that whole mindset about being in high-pressure situations and doing my thing helped me out,” he said.
Duke ended the season with a 1-3 record, and a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 34 games and pitched 46.1 innings, allowing a .254 batting average with 44 hits, 19 earned runs and 20 walks, while striking out 64 batters.
Dark spot for Duke
The only dark spot for Duke was his elbow wearing down after a higher workload than what he was accustomed to.
“Just little elbow spasms from overthrowing,” the 6-foot, 180 pounder said about the injury. “When I was closing I threw 35 innings at the most the last three years [at Oklahoma]. Last year I was close to 60, so I just had a little bit of wear and tear in my arm. I haven’t been doing that for a while.”
Duke comes into camp with three main pitches in his repertoire: a fastball that he says has clocked as high as 95 mph, a slider and change-up that he is still fine tuning.
“I’ve been playing with it a long time, I used to throw a circle change, and now I have changed my grip a little bit. I’m trying to use that a lot more.”
Duke’s main expectation for this year is to continue his solid production from 2012.
“Just go out and compete like I did last year. Go after hitters, use my change-up more effectively, and just help my team win,” Duke said.
The Fightin Phils first game is still almost a month away. They begin on April 4, in New Hampshire against the Fisher Cats.