The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly signed veteran left-hander relief pitcher Zach Duke to bolster its bullpen for the 2019 season.
The Cincinnati Reds and veteran relief pitcher Zach Duke reportedly came to terms on a deal last week. Duke, who will turn 36 at the beginning of the 2019 season, will be making his second tour of duty in a Cincinnati Reds uniform as he was a member of the 2013 Reds club.
It is expected that Duke will further enhance the Reds bullpen, which is already anchored by a strong group of savvy veterans and young arms. It also continues with this offseason theme of Dick Williams’ commitment to revamp and improve the overall pitching within the organization.
The Waco, Texas-native debuted in 2005 with the Pittsburg Pirates. Zach Duke quickly accelerated through the Pirates organization as he was rated the No. 1 prospect within Pittsburgh’s system. He enjoyed six seasons in the Steel City with the Bucs, starting 159 games and posting a 45-70 for some pretty atrocious Pirates teams in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Duke seemed to consistently pitch well against the Reds, who had potent offensive talent during Duke’s time as a starting pitcher for the Pirates. He became a reliever journeyman as he went on to pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, and Seattle Mariners.
Duke had a very nice bounce back season in 2018 appearing in 72 games for both the Minnesota Twins and later the Seattle Mariners. While he had a 4.15 ERA, he struck out 51 batters in 52 innings. Duke had Tommy John surgery at the conclusion of the 2016 season and only appeared in 18 innings in 2017 in St. Louis.
The transformation from an inning-eating starter to a reliever was not an easy process. Duke was released from the Washington Nationals in 2013 and then signed to a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Like many athletes Zach felt that he still had the ability to contribute. In an article in TwinCities.com, Duke recalled a conversation with his wife, Kristin:
"“She kind of had to beat it through my head that I was done as a starter. My wife just kind of said, ‘Listen, nobody is interested in you as starter anymore. They’ve seen it babe. There’s nothing changing. They know what they’re going to get as a starter, and nobody wants it anymore.'”"
The Reds called Duke up to Cincinnati at the end of August 2013 where he appeared in 14 contests, posting a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings. While only a small sample size, a few things that stand out from his brief time in Cincinnati are he only gave up 1 homerun and had in impressive 0.939 WHIP. Fast forwarding to the 2019 season, if similar numbers could be repeated, then Duke truly could prove to be a very solid asset pitching in Great American Ballpark.
Learning more about Zach Duke’s personal life, he and Kristin are the parents of three children. They make their home in Gallatin, TN, a Nashville suburb, which is an easy four-hour drive to Cincinnati. One would think that this signing is certainly good news for his family to be able to see him play during the season especially considering that 2018 saw him in Minnesota and Seattle.
From a friend of mine in the baseball coaching circle, “He is what you hope all MLB vets are like before you meet them in person. Absolutely outstanding person. As for the clubhouse and character, he would be top of the list I’d say. I can’t say enough for how great a guy he is.” Personally, I feel this is a good acquisition by the Cincinnati Reds and I am sure many fans are looking forward to his bullpen contributions in 2019.