ALTOONA, Pa. — Standing at 6′ 7″, 260 pounds, Duke Welker is a big man. But he’s got an even bigger arm. The right-hander has seen his fastball light up the radar guns throughout the Eastern League touching 98, 99 and even 100 in relief from the Altoona Bullpen.
Welker has made 13 appearances with Double-A Altoona in 2012, but it’s enough for Manager P.J. Forbes to notice his potential.
“This guys going to pitch in the big leagues, there’s no question about it. It’s just a matter of when,” Forbes said after the Curve’s 3-1 win on Friday night.
Drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round of 2007, the Texas native was protected in the Rule 5 draft this past December after posting a combined 2.76 ERA over 44 appearances (62.0 innings) combined with High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. Welker was promoted to the Curve on September 13, and went on to pitch ten innings with the club.
“The group of guys I’m with here are awesome,” Welker said. “We love to work. It’s a joy to come to the park everyday. Just taking steps forward and enjoying the process a little bit…I’m seeking perfection, so, I mean, I’ve already failed at that. I know It’s just a matter of being consistently successful and putting our team in a good situation.”
During Spring Training this year, Welker got to enjoy his first big league camp after spending parts of five seasons in the minors. The right-hander made one appearance before being reassigned. He allowed two runs (unearned) on one hit over an inning of relief with a walk and a strikeout. Working with the Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and learning from the Bucs’ pitching staff has proved to be invaluable for the 26-year-old. Welker said it’s been a tremendous help.
“To work with all those guys. Just to kind of visualize yourself in the big leagues and being with those guys is just a huge step. I loved every minute of it,” Welker said.
Before heading off to Pirate City, however, Welker said he knew he wasn’t going to make the club. He had yet to establish himself at the Double-A level. So far in 2012, the right-hander on track to doing just that.
This year with Altoona, Welker has posted a 2.21 ERA over 20.1 innings in relief. He’s struck out 14 batters while walking seven. Over his last four appearances (seven innings), Welker has yet to give up a run.
“His two-seamer’s back. You can see that by the weak ground balls,” Forbes said. “He’s got a fastball with life and he’s got a wipe out slider. He’s been not only dependable, but also resilient. He seems like he’s taking the ball every night, every two nights, and going in there with confidence. He’s my measure, because if I see him having fun, then I know things are on the right path. He loves to have fun and that’s a good thing.”
“I think a lot of it is just getting ahead of guys,” Welker said of his success so far. “Then throwing the ball down in the zone and just getting guys out. I learned a lot from the big league pitching coach Ray Searage. Just talking about getting guys out in three pitches or less. Just attacking. I think that’s a lot of it. Just trusting my stuff and trying to get guys out as quick as possible.”