Duff hopes for closing opportunity

Ole Miss' late-game collapses were well documented throughout last season, but one new face in 2008 covets the closer role and is looking forward to ninth-inning pressure next season

Junior college transfer Garrett Duff throws a low-90s fastball and compliments it with a slider and change-up, but perhaps more importantly, he is battle-tested mentally. Coming from Richland College in Dallas, Texas, Duff worked as a starter and closer, but the latter is what the right-hander prefers.

"I thrive on pressure and have been closing all my life," Duff said. "I started some in college, but finishing is what I really like. Pressure is what I love. I want to be the go-to guy and want the coaches to put me in because they know that I will do the job."

Competing will be key in the fall, but rehabilitation and returning to form have been the main goals for Duff the last several months after a rotator cuff tear resulted in March surgery.

"I'm currently rehabbing my shoulder," Duff said. "It's all about working hard and getting it back in shape. I had a slight tear in my rotator cuff, and the doctor went in and repaired it with arthroscopic surgery. I've been throwing since early May, and it is going really well. I'm doing some flat-ground work and other throwing and am about 95 percent right now."

The rotator cuff tear was a recurring injury from last fall that flared up again early in the season, but Duff battled through the pain so he could pitch in the Texas Junior College All Star Game. The event was his first contact with Ole Miss and a turning point in the pitcher's recruiting.

"I started a couple games and then closed a few, and the third or fourth game I pitched in was when it hurt again," Duff said. "It was like a knife was going through my shoulder every time I let a ball go.

"It hurt during a junior college all-star game in Waco (Texas), but there were so many scouts there I had to throw. That was also the first time I came into contact with Ole Miss so thank God I threw."

Lamar was high on Duff prior to the all star game, but several colleges picked up interest afterward. Ole Miss was first of that group, and Duff was quick to make the Rebels the program that would receive his services.

"I had heard a lot about their (Ole Miss) program over the last couple years, and I was interested right away," Duff said. "I visited on a recruiting trip and fell in love with the campus immediately. The coaching staff blew my mind with how they kept in contact and were concerned about my injury. My parents loved that. I absolutely love Ole Miss. It is an unbelievable experience so far."

Duff was sidelined in 2007 but compiled a 6-5 record with a 3.50 ERA in 2006. The Thunderducks finished the season 28-28, while Duff struck out 40 hitters.

"Garrett is a talented pitcher who can start a game or come out of the bullpen and close," Mike Bianco said. "He is a three-pitch guy who can bring a lot to the pitching staff with his versatility."

Duff is rooming with fellow newcomer catcher Kyle Henson.

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