Now, Duke will look to pick up where he left off and help the Pirates avoid a season-opening series sweep Wednesday when they face the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in the finale of a three-game set.
Milwaukee has not swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh since Aug. 22-24, 2003.
Duke went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts last year after a midseason callup and became the first pitcher to have an ERA below 1.00 in his first six starts since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. The 22-year-old had the most promising rookie season by a Pirates left-hander since John Candelaria went 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 1975 and could turn into Pittsburgh’s first legitimate staff ace since Doug Drabek left after the 1992 season.
Duke, who gave up one or no earned runs in 10 of his starts last season, thinks he will be able to duplicate his success despite enduring a rough spring training.
“I have to remember how I pitched guys last year, and remember that they’re going to adjust to me and I have to adjust that much quicker back to them,” he said. “Teams did that to me last year, and I expected it and I was able to combat it.”
Duke made two starts against Milwaukee, going 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA, and made his major league debut July 2 at Miller Park. The southpaw allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings, striking out a season-high nine batters.
Despite his limited playing time, Duke has more experience than two other starters, 24-year-old Ian Snell and 23-year-old Paul Maholm, who was 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in six starts. Including 24-year-old Oliver Perez, the Pirates’ first four starters are the youngest in the majors.
“Maybe that’s a good thing for us,” Snell said. “Having a young group of guys, hopefully we won’t have any arm problems and we can carry the team.”
Duke will square off against Milwaukee’s Tomo Ohka, who went 11-9 with a 4.04 ERA for both the Brewers and the Washington Nationals last season. Ohka has made seven career starts against the Pirates, going 3-2 with a 4.01 ERA.
The Brewers beat the Pirates 7-5 on Tuesday. Gabe Gross hit a pinch-hit homer in his Brewers’ debut, one day after being used as a decoy before teammate Jeff Cirillo delivered a two-run single in a 5-2 victory.
“We really have a chance to contend this year, and it’s going to take what Jeff Cirillo did yesterday, what I did today,” said Gross, who was acquired from Toronto with right-hander Dave Bush and pitching prospect Zach Jackson in a trade for first baseman Lyle Overbay in December.
Catcher Damian Miller drove in three runs for Milwaukee, but prospect Prince Fielder, son of former major league slugger Cecil Fielder, struck out three times after going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts Monday.
“Everybody goes through that,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
Closer Derrick Turnbow picked up his second save in as many games despite allowing runners to reach second and third with one out.
“You can’t ask a group of players to play any harder than they have for two days and, especially tonight, take the kind of at-bats that we took all night long,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
Pittsburgh signed right-handed reliever Salomon Torres to a two-year contract extension Tuesday.