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Suspects: Duke showing true grit for A's06/17/2008 12:38 PM ET
By Dave Feldman / MLB.com
Unusual suspect: Justin Duchscherer
Team: Oakland Athletics
As if he were a card-carrying member of Del Boca Vista Phase III, a 30-year-old Justin Duchscherer missed most of last season with arthritis of the hip.
After offseason surgery, the Duke came to Spring Training pain-free and ready to make the conversion from top reliever (remember, he was an All-Star in 2005) to frontline starter. Ten starts into the year, the Duke couldn't look cooler on the mound, reminiscent of a young John Wayne. So, how did this greatest story ever told all come about?
To the evidence!
Without Reservations: Hampered by arthritis, the Duke managed to toss only 16 1/3 innings last year, sporting an ugly 4.96 ERA along the way. Now fully healthy, it's not too surprising to see his success as a reliever (2.21 ERA in '05, 2.91 in '06) translate to the rotation.
Flying leatherneck: One secret to the Duke's triumphs this year has been his uncanny ability to induce the ground ball. As a result, the A's hurler has shrunk his fly-ball rate to 35.6 percent, translating to a career-best 0.44 HR/9 IP.
Minimal trouble along the way: Despite an increased workload, the Duke continues to stay focused on the mound while limiting his mistakes. He's issued only 16 walks over 61 1/3 frames, good for 12th best amongst all starting pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched.
The lucky Texan ... or Dakotan: Of course, not even the Duke himself could pull off such a crispy-cool season without a little luck. And so far, luck has been on this Duke's side. Duchscherer currently sports a pitcher-friendly .247 batting average against on balls in play, making him the eighth-luckiest starter in the Majors.
Of course, there are always ulterior explanations.
While much of Duchscherer's success can be attributed to what I outlined in "The Evidence," I can't help but think that other factors have come into play.
After missing much of last season with a bout of arthritis, a debilitation typically reserved for more aged citizens, I can't help but think that Duchscherer was searching for some added inspiration over the offseason, perhaps in need for a role model to emulate on the mound.
And what cooler dude could the Duke have possibly picked than the Duke, himself? Whether it was as a hard-nosed U.S. Marshall in "True Grit," a slick cavalry rider in "Hondo," or as a tough-minded Marine from "Sands of Iwo Jima," John "The Duke" Wayne has always been an icon of coolness, composure and equanimity -- all traits that translate to success for gunslingers like Duchscherer.
So with a locked-in and sure-minded Duke toeing the rubber every fifth day for the A's, in a few months' time, you'll have no doubt as to how the (AL) West was won.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.