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Pirates look to cut down on Zach Duke's workload

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to cut down on All-Star pitcher Zach Duke's workload this season.

Duke has made at least 30 starts in three of his first four full seasons in the majors. The exception was 2007, when shoulder problems limited him to 19 starts.

Duke didn't miss a start last season but faded over the final two months. On Saturday, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said the amount of work Duke put in between starts might have been the culprit.

"We'll have to take a look at that," Kerrigan said. "Maybe that has something to do with the wear and tear in August and September."

Last season, Duke was injury-free and pitched 213 innings, tops on the team and 12th in the National League. The left-hander also was tied for third in the NL with three complete games, the most by a Pirates pitcher since Jeff Suppan had three in 2003.

"I take a lot of pride in the fact that I take the mound every time and, most of the time, I give us a chance to win," Duke said.

Eight victories and a 3.29 ERA in the first half of last season earned Duke his first trip to the All-Star game. After that, however, things changed dramatically.

"His ERA for August and September was in the middle 5.00s," Kerrigan said. "Yeah, he was pitching his butt off the first two months and was going eight or nine innings, but did those outings take a toll in August and September?"

Duke's string of 15 straight starts in which he pitched six-plus innings was snapped Aug. 4 in a 6-0 loss against Arizona. Duke put up ERAs of 5.76 in August, and 5.84 in September and October, winning just twice in his final 11 starts.

Over the winter, Kerrigan closely scrutinized video of Duke's outings and did not spot any flaws in his mechanics.

In the second half of the season, the Pirates cut back on Duke's off-day throwing sessions, hoping that would keep him strong down the stretch. Kerrigan now believes they might have to cut back even more — perhaps limiting Duke's early-season outings or trimming his workouts.

Duke overhauled his offseason workout program, hoping for better results this season. His training regimen focuses on his legs and core (abdomen, oblique) muscles. He pieced together elements of what he learned from the Pirates' training staff and his own personal trainers.

"The key is getting into a routine," Duke said. "You let your body adjust to the routine and stick to it, no matter what. That doesn't mean you can kill yourself (working out) one week and then do nothing the next week."