Jhoan Duran moves closer to return to Twins

The beginning of the Twins’ season hasn’t gone according to plan. But the bullpen, despite missing three critical arms to begin the season, has been a bright spot.

Twins’ relievers had a collective 2.71 earned-run average entering Friday night, which was fifth in the major leagues. Griffin Jax and Brock Stewart have slid into the highest leverage roles, and Steven Okert has seen some late-inning work, as well.

And now, the group is close to welcoming back its top arm: closer Jhoan Duran.

“I think that it does a lot of good things for our team and our bullpen,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It pushes guys into some other roles and our bullpen gets even thicker at that point.”

Duran threw a 21-pitch live bullpen session on Friday at Target Field, facing teammates Jair Camargo and Jose Miranda. It was the first time he has thrown live as the Twins have built him back up from his oblique strain, which he suffered in March while throwing warm-up pitches in Fort Myers, Florida.

“I woke up today and I (had) a lot of energy today like my kid,” Duran said of his excitement to face hitters.

Duran said he feels good and strong and, most importantly, pain free.

The Twins will send him out on a rehab assignment in the coming days, but Baldelli was not sure yet of the timing specifics on Friday. The manager said he thought Duran would like get “a couple” rehab outings. That could put the closer on track to return sometime next week, a boost for the entire group.

“He was supposed to throw 20 and he wanted an extra one, so it tells you he is feeling good. His stuff was normal,” Baldelli said. “He threw the ball around the zone the way you would want him to. He looked like himself. He looked very comfortable and he looked like someone who is just about ready to go face some hitters in some real games.”

Kepler close to return

While the Twins are getting closer to Duran rejoining them, a return for Max Kepler is even more imminent.

Kepler, who is on the injured list with a knee contusion, began a rehab assignment with the Triple-A Saints on Thursday in Indianapolis. He started again on Saturday, playing the outfield for the first time. Baldelli said it’s possible that the right fielder, who was injured on Opening Day when he fouled a ball off his knee, could come back as soon as Sunday or Monday.

“We’ll make a determination after he gets through his game in the outfield just where he’s at and we’ll make a call,” Baldelli said. “I think it’s closle. I need him to tell us he’s ready before we can make any calls, though.”


Reliever Josh Staumont, who was rehabbing from a left calf strain with the Triple-A Saints, has wrapped up his rehab assignment and been optioned to St. Paul. … Bailey Ober will get the start on Saturday against the Tigers. Ober threw six scoreless innings against the Tigers last weekend. … David McCarty, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the Twins in 1991 and went on to have an 11-year major league career, the first three seasons in Minnesota, died Friday at 54. The cause of death was a “cardiac event” according to the Boston Red Sox, with whom McCarty won a World Series title in 2004.

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