A September twinbill between teams that are a combined 38 games below .500 wouldn’t usually be a source of much excitement. The return of one of the major leagues’ top young pitchers, however, should add some life.
The left-hander, who had been on the disabled list with a broken big toe since Aug. 27, is trying to match Don Robinson’s 7-0 start as a Pirates rookie in 1978. Duke is making his 11th major league start, having posted a 1.81 ERA in 59 2-3 innings.
Before joining the Pirates on July 2, the 22-year-old Duke went 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 108 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis. He was leading the International League in victories and innings when he was recalled.
Duke will try to spark a Pirates team that has lost 15 of 19 and has the NL’s worst record. The Pirates and Reds are playing the doubleheader to make up for an Aug. 30 rainout.
Pittsburgh avoided a three-game sweep with a 5-3 win over St. Louis on Wednesday.
Rookie first baseman Brad Eldred hit a pair of solo shots for his first multihomer game. Eldred, the Pirates’ minor league player of the year last season, homered leading off the second and hit his ninth of the season over the visitors’ bullpen in left field with one out in the sixth.
“When he first got here, he seemed to hit the ball really well,” Pittsburgh interim manager Pete Mackanin said. “And then he went into somewhat of a slump. Now he is swinging the bat better. What I get right now is that he is rebounding from a slump, which is part of being a baseball player, because it’s all peaks and valleys.”
Casey had four RBIs and Adam Dunn added three hits for the Reds, winners of four of their last five.
Cincinnati is expected to have right fielder Austin Kearns back in the lineup Friday after he missed Wednesday’s game for personal reasons.