We all knew that Zach Duke's shutout streak couldn't last forever. And we all knew the Braves would score runs against us eventually. No one is going to argue either one of these points. Unfortunately, both improbable streaks intersected this afternoon and the Braves had a three-spot on the board before the Pirates even came to the plate.
During the broadcast, Bob Walk kept saying that he thought that Duke had a stretch of bad luck in the first inning and that had a lot to do with the three runs the Braves scored. I saw something different. I saw a team that had read a scouting report. In his first two starts of 2009, Duke showed a little more snap on his curve and couple with a little more zip on his fastball, he was able to pick his spots and surprise hitters, I think. In the first few innings today, the Braves looked like they were just sitting back in the box and lining whatever Duke threw at them right back up the middle, be it curve, fastball, slider, whatever. They weren't hitting him hard in the first few innings, but they were seemingly doing exactly what they wanted to be doing.
This is where the challenge comes for Duke and Joe Kerrigan. They made some adjustments in the off-season that took the Cardinals and Astros by surprise; now what do they do when teams start adjusting to the changes that Duke has made? This is what's going to decide what kind of year Duke has, I think.
Of course, it doesn't help that the Pirates gave him no offensive support. It's been a roller coaster with both the offense and the pitching so far this year; the Pirates have scored one run or less four times while they've thrown three shutouts and held their opponent to two runs in three other occasions. I'll admit that I'm more than a little worried that the brief offensive outbursts we've seen are part of the unevenness that dominates baseball in April and that by the time mid-May rolls around, we're going to be scoring 1-2 runs a night a lot more regularly. Maybe we'll find out more about this club with the red-hot Marlins in town next.