09/29/10 4:37 PM EST
Marlins host Pirates in season's final series
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Duke will start the opener of the season-ending set at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on Thursday, and the speculation heading in is that he won't be back for a seventh season with the Pirates in 2011.
Duke, the all-time wins leader in the short history of PNC Park, is making $4.3 million this season and will be third-time arbitration-eligible this offseason, a process that could see his salary jump to the $6 million range. Given his struggles this season -- an 8-14 record and a 5.63 ERA in 28 starts -- there's a good chance the Pirates will non-tender him in the winter, meaning the 27-year-old left-hander could be looking for a new team for the first time in his Major League career.
But Duke seemingly isn't thinking about that right now. He's been pitching better lately, and his focus is on finishing, whether it be his Pirates tenure or just the 2010 season, on a high note.
"[I'm] making big pitches when I need to, really," Duke said. "Just being able to execute a pitch in a big situation, and that's really all it was."
Duke was almost removed from the Bucs' rotation after a disastrous Sept. 14 start against the Mets, when he gave up eight runs (seven earned) and lasted just 3 1/3 innings at Citi Field, but has rebounded nicely since then.
Over his past two starts, Duke has two quality starts and a 4.05 ERA.
"Yeah, I feel pretty good on the mound right now, back where I want to be," Duke said. "Obviously, I wish I wouldn't have had to go through some rough patches, but hopefully, I can go into my last start and give us a chance to win."
The Pirates will finish 2010 with the club's first 100-loss season since 2001. But despite a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday, Pittsburgh has won eight of its past 12 and is 12-14 in September.
If the club can take three of four against the Marlins, it will notch its first .500 month of the season.
The Marlins, 3-1 against the Pirates this year, have lost four straight and six of seven. Along with righting their ship to finish the season, the Fish will also be looking to finish with a winning record at home, where they are 38-39 so far this season.
The Marlins are likely to be without outfielder Cameron Maybin, who crashed into a wall Tuesday night in Atlanta. Maybin suffered a strained lower back and a lot of bruises in the impact. Manager Edwin Rodriguez said Wednesday that although Maybin could be ready in two or three games, with just four to go, it didn't seem likely he would return this season.
Pirates: McCutchen keeps reaching base
Andrew McCutchen's streak of consecutive games reaching base climbed to 24 on Wednesday, thanks to a 2-for-3 game that also included a walk.
The speedy center fielder is batting .444 over that stretch. Entering Wednesday, his season batting average of .288 was tied with Angel Pagan for second among National League center fielders (with the Cubs' Marlon Byrd leading).
Marlins: Volstad on a roll
It has been a bit of a rough season for young right-hander Chris Volstad, but at least it's finishing strong.
Volstad, who will oppose Duke in Thursday's opener, hasn't given up a run in his previous two starts. He hurled a complete-game shutout against the Cardinals on Sept. 20, then pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Brewers on Saturday, moving his ERA from 5.11 to 4.63 in that two-start stretch.
Over his first three starts of September, the 24-year-old right-hander compiled a 9.82 ERA.
"He says it's all about the tempo," Rodriguez said. "He's not overthinking about pitches. Because his stuff is the same. You can tell looking at the video. His stuff is the same. His velocity is fine. It's the tempo."
Since they will finish the 2010 season with the worst record in baseball, the Pirates are assured of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. It will mark the first time since 2002 the club makes the first selection. Although it's still early, Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon is widely regarded as the best college hitter likely to be available next summer. ... The Pirates head into Florida with just five second-half road victories. ... Logan Morrison is batting .329 at home this season, while rookie Mike Stanton is hitting just .161 at Sun Life Stadium.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.