Notes: Duke's outing nearly flawless

Notes: Duke nearly flawless

BRADENTON, Fla. -- One mistake, an 0-2 pitch to Willy Aybar that Zach Duke wanted inside but didn't get quite as far inside as he'd have liked, summed up Duke's performance. It was one mistake, however, that would be costly.

Though in Grapefruit League games, costly proves a relative term, and Duke didn't seem to fret it, even though the mistake Friday resulted in a homer that put the Pirates in a 1-0 hole early.

But pull that one mistake from his stat sheets, and the 23-year-old Duke, who worked four innings in his longest outing of the spring, is left to look at a performance that he'd gladly accept anytime he takes the mound.

"The good thing for me is that I felt pretty much the same as last time out," Duke said. "I set the bar pretty high for myself last time, and I felt like I still had the command of all my pitches. I picked up right where I left off."

After three starts, Duke said he's positioned about where he'd like to be at this point in Spring Training. He came into camp with his focus being to control his fastball, and he's showing the ability to do just that -- so far, anyway.

Having kept to his goal, he's now concentrating on lengthening his outings. He's at four innings and 45 pitches, and Duke expects his innings to move to five and his pitch count to 55 or 60 in his next start.

Duke's latest outing drew raves from manager Jim Tracy.

"His changeup right now is devastating," Tracy said. "His fastball command is letter perfect. I mean, he looks tremendous right now.

"All signs point to that we're hopeful this will continue."

Armed for success: Tracy has had nothing but praise overall for the performances of his youthful pitching staff. He's seen Duke, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Shane Youman and others produce outings that showcase a core of pitchers with plenty of potential.

Tracy was particularly pleased with Youman's work Thursday. In the first inning, Youman wiggled out of a 2-1, no-out situation en route to pitching three scoreless innings. His was the kind of outing that, a year ago, might have blown up into a big inning.

"They were young," Tracy said of his staff last season. "They didn't have an understanding of damage control or of making an adjustment in midstream. When you start seeing young people do that, it's a very positive sign.

"That's exactly what happened to us in the second half of the season last year."

And the question is ... The Pirates have had two players who have won batting titles and MVP Awards in the same season. Can you name the two players? (See answer below)

Did you know: From 1966 to 1970, Matty Alou was one of the game's most efficient and productive hitters. He compiled 986 hits during that span and won a batting title (1966). Only Pete Rose (1,014) had more hits than Alou during that span.

Bucs notes: Freddy Sanchez sat out another game with his sprained right knee Friday. He's not expected to play Saturday, when the Pirates host the Yankees. "He was moving around in here pretty good," Tracy said. "There was some talk that he might take some swings today in the cage. He's doing fine; we'll get him back out there very shortly." ... The Pirates have 60 players in camp, a total that includes 29 pitchers. Nine of those 29 pitchers are non-roster players. ... Infielder Jose Castillo got his first start at second base. "We want to get him some at-bats," Tracy said of Castillo. "He played second base today because I know he can do it."

Honor role: Vera Clemente, widow of Pirates great Roberto Clemente, will be one of the three people Major League Baseball will honor March 31 in Memphis, Tenn., as part of its Civil Rights Game ceremonies. Clemente will receive one of the inaugural "Beacon Awards" in recognition of her efforts on behalf of civil rights around the world.

The late Buck O'Neil and filmmaker Spike Lee will also receive the award.

The answer is ... In 1978, outfielder Dave Parker batted .334 en route to winning both honors. In 1960, shortstop Dick Groat accomplished the same feat when he batted .325 in leading the Pirates to victory in the World Series that season.

Quotable: "At 110 pitches in five innings, you're just about done. You're not gonna let a guy throw 130 or 135 pitches over the course of six innings. I mean, that's senseless to do to a young arm. You don't do things like that to a young arm. -- Tracy, on his pitching staff

Up next: The Pirates will host the Yankees on Saturday at McKechnie Field at 1:05 p.m. ET. Maholm will start for the Pirates, and he'll face Yankees left-hander Kei Igawa. Snell, Josh Sharpless, Damaso Marte and Allan Simpson are also scheduled to pitch against the Bronx Bombers.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.