Pirates Notebook: Duke, Snell show promise as starter for opening day

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Pirates might name their opening day starting pitcher within the next few days.

"We're getting to the point where we have to strongly consider it," manager Jim Tracy said yesterday.

Zach Duke and Ian Snell, who pitched yesterday in the Pirates' 3-2 win against Boston, are candidates to start the first game April 2 in Houston.

"Those are two pretty good choices," Tracy said. "There's nothing to be disappointed about and everything to feel good about. They're giving me plenty to think about."

The Pirates, who have an off day April 5, could opt to have Snell start the third game April 4, so they can start left-handers Tom Gorzelanny, Duke and Paul Maholm April 6-8 against Cincinnati. That would put Snell in line to start the home opener April 9 against St. Louis.

Duke pitched the first four innings, allowing a two-out, two-run home run to Mike Lowell in the fourth on a sinker that stayed up. Duke left after pitching to one batter in the fifth inning, having reached his pitch limit of 60.

"I'm way ahead of where I was last spring," Duke said. "I'm making quality pitches, and they have more life. I feel in control of what I'm doing."

Snell pitched three hitless innings, walking one and striking out four. He threw only 43 pitches but indicated that didn't matter.

"I'm already ready," he said. "I've been ready for a while."

Josh Sharpless pitched the ninth. He had a runner on third base with one out but got out of the jam with a foul pop to third baseman Neil Walker and a strikeout.

This almost certainly marked the final time this spring Duke and Snell will pitch in the same game. The next time through the rotation, the starters will be extended to at least five innings.

"[Piggy-backing] is done in the early part of the spring," Tracy said. "But around this time it gets to the point that it can no longer be done."

Walker homers again

Walker's leadoff home run in the seventh inning broke a 2-2 tie and raised the Pirates' record to 5-8-1.

It was the second game in a row in which Walker homered. This spring, he's 8 for 17 with three home runs and seven RBIs.

Perhaps moving from behind the plate to third base will help him offensively.

"With all the intangibles of catching and sometimes having to rush around to do some stuff, that's a lot of your body and a lot on your mind," he said. "My body's feeling better, and I'm not having to worry about saving my legs.

"There's definitely less to think about at third base. I know when I was catching by my third or fourth at-bat, I was dragging. It was like, 'Let's get this over with.' "

Freddy in no hurry

Freddy Sanchez, whose right knee was sprained March 6 against Philadelphia, might be able to play by this weekend, although there's no set timetable.

"I feel I'm progressing fine," Sanchez said. "I haven't had this injury before, so I don't know what to expect. I kind of thought originally it would be day to day, and, really, it is.

"I want to get out there bad, but it wouldn't be wise to rush it and have it act up. It will be better to just have it go away and be done."

Today's game

The Pirates play a day/night doubleheader against Cincinnati today. In the day game in Bradenton, Maholm is scheduled to start. Dan Kolb and Jonah Bayliss are among others who could pitch. Shawn Chacon is scheduled to start the night game in Sarasota. Sean Burnett will follow him.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Zach Duke says a prayer before his first pitch against the Red Sox yesterday in Fort Myers, Fla.
Click photo for larger image.


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