Kearns High graduate Brandon Duckworth pitching to get back to The Show
DURHAM, N.C. — Soft music can be heard in the lobby of the Durham Marriott City Center, as artificial waterfalls and large potted plants present a calm setting on a weekday afternoon in the home city of Duke University.
Salt Lake native Brandon Duckworth, 36, who has been playing pro baseball for 15 years, seems at peace with his career even though it has been nearly four years since he pitched in a Major League game.
Duckworth, a graduate of Kearns High and a former Cal State Fullerton standout, began this season by winning his first five decisions with the Pawtucket Red Sox, the top farm team of Boston in the Triple-A International League.
"This year I feel pretty good. I feel pretty consistent," says the personable Duckworth, sitting in the Durham hotel lobby before making the 10-minute walk to Durham Bulls Athletic Park during a recent road trip. "You have to get on a good roll, and we have a very good club."
Duckworth, who made his big league debut for Philadelphia in 2001, last pitched in The Show for Kansas City in 2008. He has been at the Triple-A level since 2009 and hopes for another shot at the big leagues, though he realizes that many veteran pitchers such as himself are seen by the Boston brass as second or third options after current big league hurlers or even younger prospects at Double-A.
The Red Sox may need some pitching by the end of the season. Boston's Clay Buchholz, for instance, entered his start on May 21 at Baltimore with an ERA of 7.77.
"The motivation is always there," Duckworth says of getting back to the majors. "It is about opportunity and timing. That is the biggest hurdle. They want experience (at this level). We are pretty much seen as insurance policies at this point. You have to grind it out. That is what Triple-A is about now."
"I still think he can pitch in the big leagues. I really think he can help the Red Sox if they need a starter," said Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur.
Duckworth graduated from Kearns High in 1994 and he gives a lot of credit in his development to Kevin Gates, for whom the Kearns High field is now named after. Duckworth's parents, Dyann and James, still live in Kearns, and he has a brother who lives in West Jordan.
Prior to the 2011 season Duckworth worked out in the winter with Taylorsville High graduate John Buck, now a catcher for the Miami Marlins.
But now Duckworth spends most of his offseason with his wife and twins, born during last season, at their home in New Jersey.
Duckworth improved to 5-0 when he pitched here against Durham on May 15 in an 8-2 win over the Bulls. He went six innings and allowed just six hits and two earned runs.
The next night the Pawtucket lineup included Major League veteran Kevin Youkilis, who was making a rehab appearance in the minor leagues. On May 17 at Durham the starting pitcher for Pawtucket was big league veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was also making a rehab appearance.
"It is always good to have guys coming down (for rehab) that you saw in spring training," Duckworth said.
Duckworth was the International League's most valuable pitcher in 2001 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That season he was promoted to the big leagues for the first time with Philadelphia, where he was 3-2 in 11 starts.
Duckworth was 8-9 in a career-high 30 games (29 starts) in 2002 with the Phillies and was 4-7 with the club the next season. He pitched for Houston in 2004-05 and for the Kansas City Royals from 2006-08.
He pitched at Class AAA in the Kansas City system in 2009 in the Pacific Coast League and was in the International League with the Phillies in 2010. Duckworth signed as a minor league free agent with Boston prior to the 2011 season and he was 8-6 with an ERA of 3.97 in 22 games, with 21 starts, last year at Pawtucket.
Duckworth won his first five decisions this year for Pawtucket before a 6-3 loss on May 20 at Norfolk in which he gave up nine hits and four earned runs in five innings. The Norfolk lineup included Miguel Tejada, who was recently signed by Tides' parent club, the Baltimore Orioles, and was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2002 with Oakland.
That leaves Duckworth with a record of 5-1 with an ERA of 4.28 in 10 games, with eight starts, this season for the top farm team of the Red Sox.
Now in his fourth straight year in the minors, Duckworth hopes to play for several more years as long as he can stay healthy.
"I would like to keep playing. It is something I enjoy. I love it," says Duckworth, wearing blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. "I enjoy the competition, and I enjoy helping younger guys out" as they learn to pitch in pro ball.
Sauveur feels Duckworth could one day be a good big league pitching coach.
"Duck has been great," says Sauveur, a former Major League hurler. "He is a veteran presence. He can answer questions for the younger guys. That makes my job that much easier. He is one of those guys that loves to talk and loves to teach. He is very easy to get along with."
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