Braves dump dozen hits on Duke in Pirates' 11-1 loss
Pirates starter Zack Duke hangs his head after giving up his sixth run of the afternoon against the Braves yesterday at PNC Park.
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There is the Zach Duke that everyone in Major League Baseball remembers from his phenomenal 2005 rookie uprising.
And there is the one who, in the following three years, allowed opponents to bat .302, 363 and .304 against him.
Exactly which one will fully emerge this summer remains uncertain, especially after his dismal showing -- six runs, 12 hits and a home run over six innings -- in the Pirates' 11-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves yesterday before 14,766 at PNC Park. But Duke, still sounding predictably confident afterward, was adamant there will not be much more of this model.
"Just one game," Duke said. "I'm focused on my next start, and I'll be ready. I'll wipe this out of my memory."
It might not be easy.
Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-2, 4.91) vs. LHP Andrew Miller (0-0, 6.43).
Key matchup: All pitchers and infielders vs. Florida's dynamic leadoff man, Emilio Bonifacio, who leads the National League with 17 hits, including four infield hits and two bunt singles.
Of note: The Pirates have won the first game in each of their first four series.
Duke entered the game 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA, largely on the strength of impeccable command of his fastball and a fine finish to his sinker and breaking pitches. But he had none of the above from the outset on this, his 26th birthday: Atlanta scored three times in the first on Jeff Francouer's two-run single and Casey Kotchman's RBI single, each after two outs. That emphatically ended the Pirates' string of scoreless innings at 21, the Braves' string of failure to score at 22.
Duke's pitch count for the inning: 30.
"He was leaving it out over the plate instead of pitching inside the way he had been, and they took advantage of it," manager John Russell said.
The Braves doubled that lead to 6-0 in the fourth on Martin Prado's three-run home run: David Ross doubled, and Jordan Schafer reached on a deftly placed bunt single toward second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Duke got two outs after that, but his 2-1 offering to Prado was a lifeless 87-mph fastball that Prado launched beyond the North Side Notch in left-center, farthest part of the park.
Chipper Jones, Atlanta's most feared hitter, was on deck.
"I wanted Prado to beat me, not Chipper," Duke said. "Turned out he did."
Duke's previous game was a gem, the 119-pitch shutout in the Pirates' home opener, but he needed 83 pitches -- 56 strikes -- to get through these six innings.
Worse, he threw a first-pitch strike to only 13 of his 28 batters, and that made a large difference: When Duke threw a first-pitch strike, the Braves batted .200 off him, including a bunt single and a dubious double that third baseman Andy LaRoche probably could have prevented. When he threw a first-pitch ball, the Braves batted .692, including Prado's blast, two doubles and all six RBIs.
Otherwise, there was not much to this rather blah outcome that, if it had gone far differently, could have been the Pirates' first three-game sweep of Atlanta since 1994 and could have put them two games above .500 for the first time since April 2007.
Craig Hansen relieved Duke in the seventh and was hit even harder, allowing four runs, including Ross' three-run home run, and Donnie Veal gave up another.
The offense managed just five hits during starter Javier Vazquez's six scoreless innings -- eight strikeouts, one walk -- and did not break up the shutout until the ninth, trailing by 11.
Atlanta had lost five in a row.
"Obviously, this was important," Vazquez said. "You never want to get swept."
The Pirates entered the game with a staff ERA of 2.63 that was lowest in the majors, but that ballooned to 3.34, which dropped them all the way to sixth-lowest.
First Published April 20, 2009 12:00 am