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Zach Duke Delivers Against Jays

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Well, this is the best news I've heard so far this Spring.

[Pitching coach Jeff] Andrews' message to Duke has been consistent all spring ...

More oomph.

More zip.

More purpose to the pitches.

Yesterday, in the Pirates' 8-7 upending of the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field, it is safe to say Duke made a large leap in that direction: In three scoreless innings, he allowed one hit -- a Rod Barajas double -- walked none, struck out two and, most impressive, threw 27 of 36 pitches for strikes.

That included seven consecutive strikes out of the chute and, by the time he was done, a back-door curveball that froze Vernon Wells for strike three and a fastball he blew by Sal Fasano's bat for another.

Of course, this could mean nothing, and it would be folly to worry too much about any one Spring start. Still, my best guess about what Duke will do this year just went from "He'll put up an ERA of 11, blow out his arm, and won't be seen again until his comeback with the Newark Bears in 2011" to "Well, that might not happen." It's March; I'm glad to have some hope.

Sorry for the sporadic posting recently; I'm working on a preview for the Hardball Times (which should be up next week). I'll finish previewing the other teams in the N.L. Central once that's done.