MILWAUKEE -- Starting in center field yesterday was a 5-foot-10, 180-pound speedster and left-handed batter who made his major league debut in 2005 and showed Pirates fans a pile of promise.
No, it wasn't Nate McLouth. It was Chris Duffy. For the Brewers.
"You build those real good clubhouse friendships," Duffy said, talking about how he enjoyed catching up with old Pirates pals in this Miller Park series. "It kind of brought me back a little."
Duffy and McLouth came up through the system together: Class A Lynchburg, Class AA Altoona, Class AAA Indianapolis, the majors with the Pirates. When Duffy batted .341 with the Pirates in 2005 and McLouth made his debut at .257, they appeared to have a pecking order -- leadoff and backup.
Duffy was the Pirates' opening day center fielder in 2006 and '07, then opened last season on the disabled list before slowly spinning from management's plans. Duffy batted .336 in September 2006 and recaptured his promise after he left the club for much of the summer. But then he had shoulder surgery in '07 and played only 30 games total in Altoona and Indianapolis last season before being released in November.
"I was at the point in my career, they had a plan, Neal [Huntington, the Pirates general manager] and the guys. They were kind of doing things a little differently," Duffy said. "I understood that. You miss so much time, you kind of fall away.
"I think it was good for me to get a fresh start."
On Dec. 18, he signed a minor league contract with Milwaukee -- roughly two months to the day before McLouth signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal after his Gold Glove season. Yesterday, Duffy was off the Brewers' bench and penciled into the No. 2 spot.
"Other than the opportunity [to be in the majors], I want to be healthy," Duffy said. "That was the No. 1 thing. It didn't matter where I played, I just wanted to be healthy. So far so good."
Does he feel envy toward McLouth?
"I never do. I couldn't be more happy for him -- real excited," Duffy said.
"He was in the position where he wasn't getting the chance. Playing with him all those years, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that he couldn't play every day in the big leagues."
After throwing again in the outfield beforehand and taking swings off a tee, McLouth pronounced himself ready to return tomorrow against Cincinnati. But first, he'll have to get through batting practice and probably some other pregame hitting and testing without a trace of pain, said manager John Russell. McLouth said he feels 100 percent and ready to play: "Very anxious. Can't wait."
• Jose Tabata, one of the Pirates' top prospects, will miss 4-6 weeks because of a strained right hamstring, director of player development Kyle Stark said last night. Tabata, a 20-year-old center fielder for Class AA Altoona, is batting .250 in 16 games for the Curve. He was injured Tuesday.
• The only player on the field yesterday who was present the last time the Pirates finished the first month with a .500 record, at 14-10 in 2002, was Jason Kendall -- now catching for Milwaukee.
• Andy LaRoche, whose 11-game hitting streak ended Tuesday, broke up Yovani Gallardo's no-hit bid with a fifth-inning double. Since an 0-for-18 start, he is 16 for 47 (.340) with seven doubles and eight RBIs.