KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Coach Tony Beasley has been doing batting drills with the pitching staff for the past week or so. Zach Duke is his best pupil.
This afternoon, Duke smacked a pair of doubles, one each off Astros ace Roy Oswalt and closer candidate Brandon Lyon. Pretty good results, considering they was Duke’s first two at-bats in a game this spring.
“I take a lot of pride in possibly helping myself (at the plate),” Duke said.
The Pirates got seven hits, including two by Duke. In the third, Duke got the Pirates’ first hit, a looping double to left off Oswalt.
In the fifth, Duke whipped a pitch from Brandon Lyon into the right field corner. Duke eased into second base — drawing some good-natured boos from fans who wanted to see Duke try for a triple.
“If I go for three and make an out or I (get injured), that’s not where I want to be,” Duke said.
Career batting stats for the Pirates’ starting rotation:
Duke: .188 average, 17 RBI; Ross Ohlendorf: .061 average, 0 RBI; Paul Maholm: .123 average, 12 RBI; Charlie Morton: .104 average, 1 RBI; Daniel McCutchen .091average, 1 RBI.
• Duke was just as effective at the plate as he was on the pitcher’s mound. He worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. The left-hander walked one, struck out two and lowered his ERA to 3.00.
“Not much I can complain about today,” Duke said. “I approached this game more like I would a regular-season game. I knew I was going to be out there for a long time. I tried to get my game plan established and work off that. It went really well. I was able to execute everything I wanted to.”
Duke was slated to work six innings, but he was efficient enough to start the seventh in order to boost his pitch count.
“Everything was working,” manager John Russell said. “He was down (in the zone), his offspeed pitches were working. When he’s like that, he’s very efficient.”
After giving up T.J. Steele’s broken-bat, infield single in the third inning, Duke retired 12 straight. His day ended with Geoff Blum’s two-out single in the seventh.
• Closer Octavio Dotel retired all five batters he faced today in a game against the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at Pirate City. Dotel got three strikeouts, threw 21 pitches and hit 93 mph with his fastball. It was the right-hander’s fourth outing since coming back from an oblique injury.
• Fox Sports Pittsburgh will televise 156 regular-season Pirates games this season. That’s the most ever by the network.
• The Pirates will play two split-squad games Sunday. Ross Ohlendorf will start against the Rays. D.J. Carrasco will start against the Phillies. Carrasco is a shoo-in for a bullpen job, but the Pirates want to keep him semi-stretched out in case he’s needed as a long reliever or even spot starter.
• Before today’s game, Brandon Moss, Jack Taschner, John Russell, coach Luis Dorante and Neal Huntington filmed a segment for the Pentagon Channel. It will be part of a video salute to American troops abroad. Taschner’s brother-in-law served in Iraq as an Army Ranger.
• The annual Bradenton PirateFest will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday on 9th Street outside McKechnie Field.