Pirates Notebook: Duke eager for PNC return

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The Pirates' next series begins Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the two winningest pitchers in PNC Park history will be on opposite sides: Zach Duke, making his homecoming, is scheduled to start the second game Wednesday against longtime teammate and friend Paul Maholm.

Duke is 31-31 at PNC Park, Maholm 31-27.

"A showdown," Maholm said jokingly Sunday morning.

What might that return be like for Duke after a decade in the Pirates organization?

"I don't know, honestly," Duke said from Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks played this weekend. "I feel like I was pretty courteous to the fans there. Hopefully, I'm well received. It'll be fun."

And of facing Maholm?

"That'll be fun. I've known him a long time, and we've been trading texts. We don't really have the relationship where we talk too much trash. We respect each other too much."

Duke, 28, was drafted by the Pirates in 2000 and made 161 starts until he was traded in November for minor-league pitcher Cesar Valdez. Duke's pitching hand was broken in Arizona's spring training, but he has made two starts since returning May 28 with a superb debut of seven scoreless innings and his first career home run.

The Diamondbacks are contending in the West Division, which obviously is a new experience for Duke. But he had a positive assessment for his former team, too.

"They have a bunch of good young players," he said. "They've been doing a lot of things right to win. It's going to be a challenge for us."

Asked what it was like to play so long for a losing team, he replied: "At times it was frustrating because there were so many players who were there and gone. So many new players. It seemed like, as soon as you became friends with guys, they moved somewhere else. Hopefully, they have a group of guys they can keep there and then move forward."

Another lefty, please

Beginning with the Winter Meetings in December, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was stating publicly that he likes having two left-handers in the bullpen. Down to just rookie Daniel Moskos now, he reiterated that after the 7-3 loss Sunday.

"We might need to look at rearranging our bullpen a little bit," Hurdle said. "We've faced a lot of teams with a lot of left-handers, and the one left-hander out there is not as many options as I'd like to have."

Possibilities at Class AAA Indianapolis include Brian Burres, Justin Thomas and Tony Watson, the latter being the only one on the 40-man roster.

Most likely to go is struggling right-hander Jose Ascanio.

Big red crowds

With the attendance of 35,505 Sunday -- just shy of a sellout -- the series drew a total of 108,807 fans, the fourth-largest showing for any three-date series in PNC Park history. The largest was the 113,114 Aug. 10-12, 2001, against the San Diego Padres.

The visible majority was dressed in Phillies red for the weekend, though that reversed on Sunday.

In all, the Pirates' average attendance now is at 20,785, an increase of 21 percent over the same point last season. It is the fourth-largest current increase in Major League Baseball.

Buried treasure

• Third baseman Pedro Alvarez (quadriceps) has resumed playing in the field in Bradenton, Fla., in extended spring games, but no date has been set to begin a minor league rehabilitation stint. "He's moving fine," general manager Neal Huntington said.

• Pitcher Donnie Veal, still climbing back from elbow surgery, was assigned to the Class AA Altoona bullpen.

• One thing Hurdle said he likes about Xavier Paul, who started instead of Jose Tabata in left field, is that "he's not afraid to take a chance. We've got to find ways to push. He's a risk-taker. Matty Diaz is a risk-taker. We need that."


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at DK on Pittsburgh Sports .


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