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Notes: Marte impresses in debut

Notes: Marte impresses in debut

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's no secret that the eventual makeup of the Pirates bullpen is still full of question marks with just over three weeks until Opening Day. On Thursday, Damaso Marte put to rest any concern that he should be a part of any of those questions.

Marte fell behind in his throwing program right out of the chute as he battled the flu through the first week of camp. As a result, Thursday was the first chance for Marte to take the mound against hitters other than those on his own team.

Manager John Russell couldn't have been more impressed.

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"[He was] outstanding," Russell said. "I thought he threw the ball extremely well, especially for his first outing. He looks like he is right on track to where he needs to be with the way he threw today. I was very impressed."

Marte eased through one inning of work, allowing one innocuous two-out single. His pitches had noticeable life to them, and after spending the last few weeks low on energy, Marte looked much like he did all of last season, when he allowed just 12 earned runs in 65 total appearances.

The next scheduled outing for Marte will be on Sunday, when the Pirates travel to meet the Tigers.

Duke answers back: It's no secret that Zach Duke is the bull's eye for the group of pitchers trying to lay claim to a rotation spot. But in stark contrast to his outing five days ago, Duke answered those challenges with a dominant three innings of work on Thursday.

"There are a lot of guys nipping at my heels," Duke admitted. "I know my job is up for the taking. I prepared myself to be at the highest level I can."

The left-hander barely labored during his appearance, facing just one batter over the minimum and adding two strikeouts to his line by the end of the afternoon.

In between Duke's tumultuous first Spring Training appearance last weekend and his impressive showing on Thursday, he and pitching coach Jeff Andrews worked on emphasizing a slightly bigger leg kick and lengthening the stride in Duke's motion. Both were evident, and both were effective.

"[You can] really see the difference," Russell said. "The ball is down with more life to it. It's a great building spot for him. He feels very comfortable with what he's been doing. His last few bullpens have been great, and now he can carry that over."

The one test Duke never had on Thursday, however, was facing a hitter standing in the batter's box to the left of the plate. After having the majority of his troubles in his first outing against left-handed hitters, Duke was matched up against an entirely right-handed-hitting lineup.

Gorzo gone early: Though he had been slotted to pitch two full innings against the Blue Jays, Tom Gorzelanny ended his start prematurely after needing 37 pitches -- only 18 of which were strikes -- to get the first four outs of the game. With no need to extend the left-hander any further, Russell didn't hesitate to pull Gorzelanny with the bases loaded and only one out in the second.

"He reached about what we wanted him to," Russell said. "You have those outings in Spring Training."

Gorzelanny joked, "I would have taken myself out for other reasons [than a pitch count]."

Russell cited arm slot issues as the culprit behind Gorzelanny's struggles, while the left-hander admitted that he simply might have just been trying to throw too hard. Neither issue is expected to be a long-term concern.

BK on track: After throwing about 30 pitches in batting practice on Tuesday, Byung-Hyun Kim will do so again on Friday. The Pirates anticipate that Kim will be ready to join game action early next week.

Despite the fact that Kim will have missed nearly two weeks of Grapefruit League games by that point, there is no concern among Pirates management that the 29-year-old Kim will not be ready for Opening Day.

"As a reliever, it's not going to take him long to get ready," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He'll still have three weeks before we are ready to go. If he were a starter, we'd be concerned, but as a reliever he'll be fine."

Bucs bits: Prior to Thursday's game, the Pirates took right-hander Josh Sharpless and catcher Carlos Maldonado out of Major League camp and reassigned both to the organization's Minor League camp. ... With thunderstorms looming after the conclusion of Thursday's game, president Frank Coonelly lent his hand to the McKechnie Field grounds crew, assisting them in pulling the tarp to cover the infield. ... After receiving such positive feedback following his motivational talk to players at the opening of Major League Spring Training, former Pirates pitcher and current broadcaster Steve Blass gave the same talk over at Pirate City again on Thursday before the first full-squad workouts at Minor League camp.

On deck: For the first time in the 40 years that the Pirates have made McKechnie Field their home, the team will play host to a night game on Friday. Friday's 7:05 p.m. ET contest against the Reds will be the first opportunity for the organization to showcase the lights that were installed at their Spring Training stadium over the past year.

Lefty Paul Maholm will make the start for Pittsburgh in the nightcap and is scheduled to pitch three innings. He will be opposed by Cincinnati right-hander Bronson Arroyo.

The Pirates and Reds will also meet earlier in the afternoon, with a 1:05 contest in Sarasota, Fla. Right-hander John Van Benschoten will make the start at Ed Smith Stadium against Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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