The Pirates win their home opener for only the third time in the past 16 tries. Deservingly, much of the credit goes to Zach Duke who hurled 79 of 119 pitches for strikes and shut out the ‘Stros.
Duke is off to a blistering 2-0 record in the young season. When we remember that Duke won a mere 5 games last season, is it possible to pencil in Duke for 10+ wins this season? That would mark his career high water mark set in 2006 when he went 10-15 but was humbled by a 4.47 ERA.
Before we go crowning Duke the heir apparent to Jack Chesbro, it is important to point out that Duke has received 14 runs in his two starts. But more importantly, Duke has received help from the top of the order. Morgan, Sanchez, McLouth and Doumit have gone 16 for 39 (.410) with 10 RBIs. Granted beating up on the now 0-2 Brian Moehler today wasn’t exactly awe inspiring, but Wellemeyer who the Buccos beat in Duke’s last start is an anchor in Tony LaRussa’s rotation.
What the Pirates are finding is that when they give their pitchers a chance to win – 6 runs on 4/6, 7 runs on 4/8, 10 runs on 4/11 and 7 on 4/13 – their pitchers can hold their own. With the exception of Ian Snell’s 9-3 drubbing at the hands of the Cards, the Pirates have not let up more than 4 runs in any game this season.
Are they doing this with improved defense? Has a huge off-season signing started knocking the stuffing out the ball?
No, they are doing it with improved performance from the top of their line-up, and taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. The top of the order is still a bit jumpy and their plate discipline seems shaky at best – one of the tenants of championship caliber baseball is plate discipline – but there is a hope that when the offense is clicking, the pitching will/could/perhaps follow suit.
Duke may not have all of the answers this season, but it looks like the rest of the team might just be willing to give him enough breathing room to figure it out if he has any of them.
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Written by David Fulco