Pirates Notebook: GM 'confident' in Maholm, Duke

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ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates have no apparent plan to remove either of their two struggling starters, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, from the rotation. Nor are they considering a demotion to the minor leagues.

Rather, the plan, as general manager Dave Littlefield made clear yesterday, is to help each of the young left-handers work through whatever is amiss. And that will include each taking his regular turn in the next series at Cincinnati.

"I'm very much behind them and very confident they're going to be successful major-league pitchers," Littlefield said. "They have had success at this level, and they're motivated and we're motivated for them to be successful again."

He stressed that each is in his second full season.

"There are times -- and this is common through the industry -- where players in their second years go through inconsistencies. I know they're very motivated to get back on track, just as we're very motivated to help them."

Manager Jim Tracy cited the inconsistencies of Duke and Maholm as one reason the team chose veteran Shawn Chacon as the new fifth starter to replace Tony Armas. The team might have promoted a pitcher from Class AAA Indianapolis, he said, if it felt more secure with the rest of the rotation.

"We have two guys we can count on right now," Tracy said, referring to Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. "That's why you have to go with that veteran, to try stabilize things."

John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett, the top three starters in Indianapolis, all have highly limited experience with the Pirates. If one of them had been added, Tracy said, it would have given him three points of uncertainty.

"Look, if you have Duke and Maholm pitching the way they did in 2006, that creates an opportunity for you to look at the situation with those other guys," Tracy said. "But that's not the case. You've got to manage to what's happening right now. It's 2007, and we're 44 games into the season. We need some consistency."

Duffy returns at No. 2

Chris Duffy, the Pirates' leadoff hitter all season until being benched for three games, rejoined the lineup in the No. 2 spot last night. It was the second time in his career he has batted second.

"We'll see," Tracy said of the switch. "We're trying to get him going because it would help us offensively a whole lot if he did. We're not giving up on him."

Why second?

"We're trying to take the onus off him. And, at the same time, if Jose Bautista doesn't get on, maybe Duff can."

Buried treasure

Tracy praised Armas for his scoreless inning Tuesday, saying Armas had "a little more life" with his fastball.

The Pirates will get no break in Cincinnati: The Reds' aces, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, will pitch the first two games of their four-game set with the Reds Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday's results

INDIANAPOLIS (26-18) was off.

ALTOONA (19-23) lost at Akron, 6-2. RHP Kip Bouknight (4-1, 3.78) allowed five runs in five innings. CF Andrew McCutchen (.196) went 1 for 4 with a walk and committed his first error. 3B Neil Walker (.282) went 0 for 3 with a walk.

LYNCHBURG (19-21) won at Frederick, 5-1. RHP Derek Hankins (5-2, 4.02) allowed one run in six innings. LF Jason Delaney (.355) hit a grand slam, his fifth home run, and went 2 for 2. DH James Boone (.356) went 2 for 4.

HICKORY (17-26) beat Kannapolis, 8-7. RHP Henry Cabrera (2-3, 6.75) allowed six runs in three innings. 1B Kent Sakomoto (.258) hit his fourth home run and went 1 for 4. 2B Cameron Blair (.321) went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.



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