Notes: Bucs to be careful with Duke

Notes: Bucs to be careful with Duke

PHILADELPHIA -- In an effort to protect rookie sensation Zach Duke against fatigue as the season draws to a close, the Pirates are considering going to a six-man starting rotation.

The Pirates starters will remain in turn as a five-man rotation at least through the next two series. However, that could change when Oliver Perez returns from the disabled list when rosters expand in September.

"I certainly think that's a possibility," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I don't mind going to a six-man rotation if you have six guys throwing the ball well."

Including his seven shutout innings Thursday night against the Mets, Duke has thrown a career-high 165 2/3 combined innings this season between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis. Duke threw 160 1/3 innings in 2004, and most teams are typically reluctant to increase a young starter's workload by more than 25 innings from one season to the next.

"Just because that's the industry norm doesn't mean you have to take him to that 25 innings," said McClendon. "He may not be able to get to that 25 innings. Some guys may be able to go beyond that. I don't know what that answer is. We have to sit down and figure that out."

The Pirates will monitor Duke's pitch count perhaps even more so than his innings as the season progresses. Excluding his rain-shortened outing against the Marlins on July 27, Duke has averaged 106 1/2 pitches per start in the big leagues, including 103 on Thursday.

"With Duke, it has to do with innings, pitches, how he's feeling from a physical standpoint and his history of how he's been built up,' said McClendon.

"[Thursday] night gave me a good indication about the number of pitches. I have my feelings about his number of pitches in a game based on what I've seen in his last seven starts here."

It is unlikely that Duke will be shut down once he reaches a certain number of innings.

"Shutting him down would hopefully be the last option," said McClendon. "Cutting his innings and number of pitches would certainly work."

Duke has already reduced his between-start bullpen sessions from 49 to 35 pitches, and he's cut back on his weight training.

"I usually cut back a little at this time of the season," said Duke. "That's nothing out of the ordinary."

While Duke does not believe he is wearing down, he is prepared to take on a reduced workload if necessary.

"I feel good. I feel strong," said Duke. "Whatever they want me to do, I'll do it. Any way I can help."

Perez closer to return: Perez, who has been on the disabled list since June 27 due to a broken big toe on his left foot, threw 54 pitches in a bullpen session Friday and participated in fielding drills.

"We wanted to make sure there was no soreness or stiffness there. He was fine," said pitching coach Spin Williams. "He was running around like crazy. So he feels good."

The southpaw reported feeling no pain in the foot two days after throwing a simulated game in New York.

Perez will throw four innings or 75 pitches the next time he takes the mound. Williams said Friday afternoon that the team would decide "in the next 24 hours" whether Perez will throw another simulated game or head out on a Minor League rehab assignment.

"Command is an issue and how fast we want to push him," said Williams. "Do we feel comfortable putting him out there with a four-inning, 75-pitch limit? If we don't feel comfortable sending him out as a starter at 75 pitches, then we'll have him throw another simulated game and send him out after that."

If Perez is sent to the Minor Leagues, he'll start either with Double-A Altoona on Monday or with Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday. Indianapolis is off Monday.

"Everything is good," said Perez. "I feel ready. I just have to wait until they tell me when."

Perez will likely increase his workload to five innings or 90 pitches during a second rehab start before returning to the big league rotation in early September.

September additions? Perez probably won't be the only familiar name to return to the Pirates when rosters expand in September.

With the Pirates struggling to find a healthy player to put at third base in recent days, Ty Wigginton and Bobby Hill are strong candidates to return to the big leagues. Pitchers Ian Snell and Mark Corey would help give the team additional depth in the bullpen.

Third baseman Jose Bautista, who spent the entire 2004 season in the big leagues as a Rule 5 Draft pick, is batting .278 with 21 home runs and 82 RBIs at Altoona. Right-hander Bryan Bullington, the top overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, has had a strong second half with Indianapolis. Catcher Ronny Paulino has batted .336 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in 63 games since being promoted to Indianapolis.

As of Friday, McClendon was not yet willing to divulge who the team is considering for September promotions.

"The only thing that goes into my decision is whether or not he can help me win a ballgame," said McClendon.

Mr. 500: Veteran reliever Rick White, who has played for eight big league teams since breaking in with the Pirates in 1994, made his 500th career appearance Thursday against the Mets.

"It's been a long road, that's for sure. It's been a lot of fun with a lot of ups and downs," said White. "It's cool to be able to get my first one and my 500th with the Pirates."

White, 36, isn't ready to hang up his cleats any time soon.

"Hopefully I can shoot for 750 now," said White. "But I don't think I can get 1,000."

On deck: The Pirates and Phillies will continue their three-game set Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. Southpaw Mark Redman (5-13, 4.77 ERA) will take the hill for the Bucs against Philly right-hander Brett Myers (10-6, 3.62 ERA).

Ed Eagle is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.