In a sense, Brandon Duckworth is the polar opposite of a host of young pitchers who made a stop at Pawtucket en route to the Boston Red Sox– pitchers like Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront.
Duckworth, a 36-year-old right-hander, is THE veteranon the Pawtucket Red Sox staff. He’s also one of the more valuable hurlers on a team that already has stamped itself as a legitimate contender for the International League’s North Division pennant.
What Duckworth has done on the mound is one thing. Through games of May 4 he was 3-0 (six games including four starts) with a 3.71 ERA replete with 11 walks and 26 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.
What Duckworth does off the mound is what makes him valuable to PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur.
“It makes my job much easier when the younger guys can sit there and be in the bullpen with (pitchers like Duckworth) and talk about situations and talk about the game,” said Sauveur. “I think they learn from that because these veterans have been through these situations.
“I’ve seen it when I’ve played (Sauveur pitched parts of six seasons in the major leagues but spent most of his career in the minors). Veterans come in here and have a positive effect on these guys. Kevin Millwood last year, Duckworth, (Scott) Atchinson and (Alan) Embree have been outstanding.
“ ‘Duck’ has been outstanding in the two years he’s been here,” continued Sauveur. “I know I get to see these guys throw with him and talk to him about things. Again, he’s a great person to have on a team.”
Duckworth realizes what he brings to Pawtucket is more than victories and strikeouts.
“Veteran leadership,” he said in reply to a question. “Sometimes there’s a veteran guy around who won’t really talk to guys. But then there are other guys who will. I take it personally because I like to see (young) guys get better each and every day.
“In know I was a touted prospect. When I walk into a clubhouse I see young guys who’re struggling. It’s a different perspective. I use my experience to help them along. I like to give back because I know other guys who’ve made the transition easier.”
Duckworth at one time definitely was a touted prospect.
- Baseball America rated him as the Phillies’ No. 9 prospect in 2000.
- In 2001, Baseball America rated him the 14th-best rookie in major league baseball.
- Overall, with Philadelphia, Houston and Kansas City, Duckworth has compiled a career 23-34 major league record (he made his major league debut on August 7, 2001 and earned a 7-3 victory over the Padres). But he last pitched in the majors in 2008 with the Royals.
At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, that begs the question why should young pitchers listen to a guy who last pitched in the majors nearly four years ago?
“The reason why is he’s already been through everything,” said Sauveur. “He’s been where you want to be. The best thing about ‘Duck’ is he’s a good guy. He’s a big plus and has a fantastic attitude.”
For all intents and purposes, Duckworth relishes the opportunity to discuss his craft with pitchers who may have been in high school when he was pitching in the minors.
“Last year, for example, I had a chance to sit and talk with (since-traded) Kyle Weiland and some of the young guys in the bullpen,” said Duckworth who last season with Pawtucket was 8-6 with a 3.97 ERA in 22 games. “A lot of times we talked about pitch selection and times in the game. ‘What we’re you thinking in certain situations? Why did you throw this pitch in this situation at this point in the game?’
“At first, he didn’t have an answer. He said ‘I kind of followed what the catcher was putting down.’ But you learn that you need to have a reason and a conviction for every pitch. A lot of times, maybe they’ll say ‘Yeah, okay.’ But they don’t pay attention.”
That, of course, can lead to disastrous results and an early shower.
Since Duckworth has worked both as a starter and a reliever, he brings even more experience when talking about pitching.
“They talk about what he did in his career,” said Sauveur. “How did he do this? How did he transform himself into a reliever? How did he transform himself into a starter?
“They mostly talk in the bullpen and during the throwing program. That’s always a good time because they can work on stuff while they’re throwing. If you have a good, young kid – an intelligent kid – who wants to ask questions, he will ask questions.”
One question that’s Duckworth is asked semi-frequently is why at his age and with a family does he continue pitching instead of seeking another job – either outside or inside baseball? (Sauveur: “I could see him becoming a pitching coach once his career is over.”)
“I work on my repertoire in terms of being as consistent as I can be,” said Duckworth. “You want to work your way back to the majors while you’re at Pawtucket and you can’t feel sorry for yourself.
“I have a love for the game and I know I can still help out a team. I feel I can still pitch up there. But the timing hasn’t been there right now.
“First, you’ve got to be pitching well,” continued Duckworth. “Secondly, it’s a matter of timing. Did you pitch the day before? When are you slotted to pitch? It’s a numbers game when they have 40-man roster spots. Do they have any openings?”
Sauveur, for his part, doesn’t feel the minor leagues will be Duckworth’s last stop.
“I really do believe he’s a starter,” said Sauveur. “He’s had a good career. And you know what? Again, I think he’ll pitch in the big leagues before the season is over.
“Right now, he’s my ‘go-to guy.’ Tony Pena Jr. was that last year when I had to depend on him to relieve or start. Duckworth seems to be that guy right now because we wanted to keep Tony in the pen. I’ll tell him ‘I need you to start’ or ‘I need you to pitch out of the pen or I need you to start again.’
“Guys like Duckworth know they have an opportunity to get back to the big leagues, especially in this organization,” added Sauveur. “If you put up numbers, they’ll call you up.”