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Duvall rearmed and ready

Lefty recovers lost velocity in second bid to join Rays bullpen.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- He was a young player in his first big-league spring training camp in 1998. Naturally, there were lessons to be learned for Mike Duvall. Like his fastball, for instance. He forgot to bring it with him.

Taken from Florida with the first pick in the second round of the expansion draft, Duvall was considered one of Tampa Bay's brighter prospects last season. His minor-league performances were impressive. The scouting reports were glowing.

The only problem was, Duvall did not come as advertised.

"From what I had heard and what I was seeing, it was two different things," manager Larry Rothschild said.

Duvall had a form of inflammation in his shoulder, and it was preventing him from throwing with as much velocity and sharpness as normal.

It wasn't so bad that he couldn't pitch. He simply couldn't pitch with the same effectiveness.

"The way I pitched in Double A the year before, I thought I was ready last year," Duvall said. "But I guess my arm was telling me I wasn't as ready as I thought."

Duvall's arm is singing a different tune this spring. He looked sharp during early workouts, and he was perfect in two appearances before giving up a run Thursday night.

The Devil Rays are auditioning a dozen left-handers for a possible two spots in the bullpen, and Duvall appears to be near the top of the list.

"His stuff is a little different this spring. Quite a bit different," pitching coach Rick Williams said. "He's got some life to his fastball. He's probably 4-5 mph harder and has crispness to his breaking ball and is throwing his changeup. He's a different pitcher so far this spring."

Crazy as it seems to him now, Duvall said the arm difficulties may help him in the long run.

He took a couple of months off at the start of last season, but his shoulder never bounced back. So he went to the minors and pitched through the minor discomfort.

"I had to totally learn how to pitch because I wasn't throwing nearly as hard. I had to develop a changeup. I threw more changeups last year than I had in my entire life combined," Duvall said. "I was used to throwing 90-91 mph, which isn't blazing speed, but you can get away with a few bad pitches when you're at that speed. You can't when you're throwing 84 or 85.

"It definitely taught me how to pitch better. I'm kind of grateful for it, I think. I'm not sure yet."

Duvall spent most of the season with Triple-A Durham, even working as a starter for a couple of months to get his arm in shape. Despite the shoulder ailment, he pitched well enough to earn a call to Tampa Bay late in September.

There were days when his velocity would appear close to normal but would inexplicably vanish again. Even during his short stay with the Devil Rays, he was not at full speed.

He took about six weeks off after the season, then went to Venezuela to play winter ball and test his arm.

"In my first relief appearance they had the radar gun on the scoreboard and I looked around and it was 85, and I thought, "Oh no,' " Duvall said. "But the next time I felt better and then my first start it was harder than I had thrown in a year. I was so happy. I got the loss, but I didn't care. This was what I was waiting for. I didn't care if I gave up 50 runs."

Last season's blip notwithstanding, there never has been much doubt about Duvall's ability on the mound.

Drafted in the 19th round out of Potomac State College in 1995, he has put up eye-catching numbers in parts of four minor-league seasons. Duvall is 19-10 with a 2.32 ERA and 33 saves while climbing each minor-league rung.

At 24, Duvall is the youngest of the left-handed relievers in camp. When it comes time for the Devil Rays to make choices, that could weigh heavily in his favor. Though he does not have the experience of non-roster veterans Norm Charlton and Larry Casian, his long-range potential is far better.

"If a younger guy with a high ceiling is throwing as well as anyone else, that's obviously something we'd be looking for," Rothschild said.

Regardless of how it turns out this spring -- whether he remains in Tampa Bay or heads back to Durham -- Duvall figures he already is better off than last year.

"This is my chance to redeem myself," he said. "I didn't give myself a chance to make the club last year. I know there are a lot of guys here, but at least now I'm healthy and I'm getting a real look."

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