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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

Duke pearl of Pirates' system for a reason

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mud Hens starter Sean Douglass (44) is taken out in the sixth inning. Douglass (3-1) allowed six earned runs on eight hits. Mud Hens starter Sean Douglass (44) is taken out in the sixth inning. Douglass (3-1) allowed six earned runs on eight hits.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Indianapolis left-hander Zach Duke did nothing to tarnish his status as the top prospect in the Pittsburgh farm system last night, handcuffing the Mud Hens in a 6-0 Indians win at Fifth Third Field.

Using mostly two and four-seam fastballs, the 22-year-old southpaw allowed just two hits and two walks in 62/3 innings. Duke tied his professional high with 11 strikeouts in handing the Hens their second straight loss.

"That's how I pitch," said Duke, whose 5-1 record is best in the International League. "I have to establish my fastball early in the game, and luckily I was able to elevate the ball and they were missing it.

"I'm not a strikeout pitcher. They were an aggressive team, and I was able to take advantage of it."

The Mud Hens' first hit off Duke came in the second inning when Byron Gettis beat out a slow roller in the hole between first and second base with two outs and a runner on first.

Duke got Alexis Gomez to ground out to snuff that threat, then retired the following 12 Hens in order until Chris Shelton led off the seventh with a single to left.

"They didn't hit the ball hard, but they had a couple of runners on, and that's the kind of stuff that can lead to a big inning," Duke said of the second-inning rally. "Luckily I was able to focus and get the hitter right there."

Duke finished strong, striking out the next two hitters after Shelton's single. Jack Hannahan worked Duke for his second walk of the night; that prompted Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett to pull Duke in favor of Mike Johnston, who fanned Gettis to end the threat.

Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish acknowledged that Duke deserved his position as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but said that

didn't absolve his hitters from blame for the loss.

"If you're going to be a prospect, you have to be able to hit that," Parrish said. "Those are the kinds of guys you're going to see at the next level, so if you want to play there, you have to hit him."

The Indians scored all the runs they needed in a four-run second inning against Toledo starter Sean Douglass (3-1). Ryan Doumit led off with a double to right-center, then scored on a single by Brad Eldred. Jon Nunnally singled Eldred to third, and Eldred came home on a double by Yurendell de Caster. Jorge Velandia and Chris Duffy capped the inning with back-to-back sacrifice flies.

In the seventh, the Tribe extended its lead to 6-0 when Douglass allowed two hits before Nate McLouth stroked a two-run single off reliever Doug Creek.

That was more than enough for Duke and two Indianapolis relievers, who combined to strike out 16 Hens. That tied the mark for most strikeouts for a Toledo opponent at Fifth Third Field; Louisville fanned 16 in a game here April 5, 2003.

"Guys were swinging at good pitches - they just didn't get the bat on the ball," said second baseman Ryan Raburn, the only Hens player who didn't strike out last night. "You have those nights when you don't do anything and you just have to go to the next day and see what happens."

That next day comes soon enough as the Hens play host to the first of four morning games at 10:30 a.m. The Hens will send Andrew Good (0-0) to the mound to face the Tribe's Cory Stewart (1-2).

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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