Duke Trying to Regain Form

Last season 22-year old left-hander Zach Duke tantalized Pittsburgh Pirate fans after he was recalled from the minor leagues. He went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA over 14 starts and was named National League Rookie-of-the-Month for July and August. This year Duke doesn't look like the same pitcher. Over two regular-season starts, Duke's ERA is 6.55. His spring-training ERA was 7.62.

"It's not me out there, and that's kind of disappointing," said Duke, who allowed seven earned runs on eight hits over just five innings in a 8-3 loss to the Dodgers in the Pirates home opener. "It's a little frustrating for everybody, but we're going to turn the corner soon."

Duke threw just 48 of his 94 pitches for strikes.

Bucs' manager Jim Tracy said his young left-hander was "too low" in the strike zone -- a problem for Duke, considering that when he's at the top of his game he lives low in the strike zone.

"When he's right, he's throwing quality pitches down there," Tracy said.

Pirates' pitching coach Jim Colborn concurred with Tracy's assessment. "The pitches that he normally has the batter swinging at or are called strikes were just a touch below the strike zone."

Duke is only 22-years-old and remains a work in progress.

"He (Duke) had a tough time today and it happens to everyone," Tracy offered. "It's a reason why I was asked questions in the latter part of spring training as far as him being the opening day starter. I think what we have to keep in mind with him is that he's 22-years old. That's not an easy task for a guy that's been in the league for eight or nine years. His mechanics were off a little bit today."

"I don't sense any frustration," Colborn said. "When people like Zach Duke are faced with adversity they react in a positive way, which in his case will be analysis and hard work and putting things back on track. I'm not worried at all."

At the request of Tracy and Colborn, Duke made a slight adjustment to his mechanics during spring training. He re-worked the transfer of his weight during his throwing motion. Much has been made of the change in mechanics.

Duke doesn't see it that way. No big thing, he has repeatedly said.

"I'm not getting my balance point at all," Duke said. "I was rushing my mechanics and couldn't get my body under control."

Duke insists that the change will work out fine.

"It's going to make me better," Duke explained. "I feel like I've got it pretty much under control. I felt like I was doing it correctly, but I was doing it too fast. I'm just trying to get better and anytime I can try to get better I'm willing to do it."

Jim Tracy claims that failure is the best teacher and Duke is trying learn from the mistakes.

"I've got some things I can learn from today," Duke stated. "I feel like I can build on it and I guess the next time I go out there I'll be more prepared."

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