If someone comes up to you and asks what city he's in, it might be Ryan Duke. He's not crazy, he's just likely to be confused by an "Amazing Race" sort of jaunt through the Phillies minor league system. Duke woke up as a member of the Clearwater Threshers on June 27 and the next day, he was a member of the Reading Phillies. Three days later, he was a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. And oh yeah, he started the season with the Lakewood BlueClaws.
"I've been on three different teams in four days, so it's kind of crazy," said a smiling Ryan Duke prior to Sunday's double-header in Lehigh Valley. Duke and two other pitchers - Frank Gailey and Jordan Whatcott - became emergency members of the IronPigs when their pitching staff was depleted and they needed some warm bodies to get through a day-night double-header against Pawtucket. All three were with Lehigh Valley for just one day, but Gailey and Duke were pressed into action out of the bullpen as part of Lehigh Valley's sweep.
"I wouldn't say I was expecting it, but I'm blessed for the opportunity," explained Duke. "I've been doing good recently and just taking advantage of the situation." Duke has pitched well lately, posting a mark of 1-1 and an ERA of 2.12 since June 1. On the season, Duke is a combined 1-3 with a 3.24 ERA between his four levels of work.
A 25th round pick out of the University of Oklahoma in the 2011 Draft, Duke wouldn't have necessarily been a guy you would pick to have ascended as quickly as he has. He reached Lakewood in his debut season and had impressive showings there and with Williamsport that saw him finish his first pro season with a 0.78 ERA. The only draw back was missing some action last August with back spasms, which Duke says are behind him and he is feeling no ill-effects.
When you did deeper into Duke's stats, there is one thing that stands out. The 23-year old right-hander posted especially strong numbers against left-handed hitters last season managed just an .081 average against Duke. This season, they're hitting a more robust .273, but Duke continues to take the same approach to getting hitters out. "I just always concentrate on getting ahead and then I can throw the pitches I want to throw and can use my slider down and in on them and backdoor. It's not that I do anything different, I just try to get ahead as much as I can."
For now, Duke isn't concerned with what level he's pitching at, but odds are that the Phillies will hope to have him settle in with Double-A Reading for the rest of the season. Moving through the system has allowed Duke to take advantage of wisdom from pitchers and coaches at all different levels and he's not missing an opportunity learn. Like many young pitchers in the organization, Duke has taken notice of the season that Tyler Cloyd is putting together. Cloyd took advantage of being in position to make an emergency start for Lehigh Valley on opening day and threw six perfect innings. "You just take advantage of what you get and you learn from things like that [getting opportunities]," said Duke. "I started out in Lakewood and then moved up. I had a bit of a rough patch, but then I straightened it out and next thing I'm up at Reading and then here [Lehigh Valley]. I've just tried to learn from it and talk to a bunch of the guys and get as much information as I can and put it out on the field."
One of the biggest thrills in Duke's season came when he arrived at Lehigh Valley. He found his locker and when he looked around, he noticed he was right next to veteran pitcher Scott Elarton, one of his boyhood heroes. Needless to say, Duke took advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with the former major leaguer. "It's pretty cool that his locker's right next to mine, because I was watching him in Nashville when I was like ten years old."
While he may be a little wide-eyed by all he's experienced this season, Duke is better for having the experience. Now if he can just stick in one city long enough, everything may become a little clearer for Duke.