Notes: Successful session for Duke

Notes: Successful session for Duke

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates rookie phenom Zach Duke made another positive step in his recovery from a left-ankle sprain Sunday, and signs are pointing toward his return from the 15-day disabled list next weekend.

In his first trip back to the mound since injuring his ankle while running the bases on Aug. 23, Duke threw 25 pitches Sunday during a sideline session as pitching coach Spin Williams observed.

"It felt really good," said Duke. "It's healing and it won't be long. Hopefully, I can get back out there and help the team."

"It was very positive," said Williams. "I was very pleased with what I saw."

If Duke does not suffer any setbacks, he will throw a full sideline session of approximately 50 pitches on Tuesday followed by fielding drills the next day.

"If all goes well, my hope is that he will be able to pitch in the Cincinnati series [next weekend]" said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon.

Nothing would please Duke more than getting out of the training room and back on the field.

"It's the same thing every day. It's so monotonous," said Duke. "I feel for the guys who are on the DL with an arm injury. I don't envy them for having to do it."

Since the injury, the normally baby-faced rookie has taken on a more scruffy appearance.

"It's my DL timeline," Duke said of his new beard. "The longer it is, the closer I am to getting back."

Iron man Bay: When Jason Bay made a rare baserunning mistake Saturday by getting doubled off first base after misreading a routine fly, some questioned whether the Bucs' All-Star was beginning to run out of gas after appearing in 162 consecutive games.

According to Bay, that is simply not the case.

"It's no different than June, July or August," said Bay. "It's late in the season and everyone's probably a little bit tired, but no more so than any other September.

"No one's perfect. I just forgot how many outs there were. That had really nothing to do with being tired. I just forgot."

Bay was so embarrassed by the rare gaffe that he apologized to McClendon about the incident after the game.

"Obviously, it's not something you like to do, especially someone like me who doesn't do that stuff very often," said Bay. "It just takes one time to remind you that you don't want to do it again. It's kind of a reality check and you move on."

For his part, McClendon isn't buying into the theory that Bay is wearing down.

"The only thing that [mistake] shows you is it can happen to anybody. This guy is about as intelligent of a player as you'll ever see on a baseball field," said McClendon.

"This guy is a different breed. He's in that [Jason] Kendall type of mode. If he's not in there, something's terribly wrong."

Williams update: When starter Dave Williams left the game after just two innings Saturday, there was some concern that the southpaw could be suffering from more than just a case of late-season fatigue.

Williams was given a clean bill of health from the training staff after the game but, after being reevaluated following Sunday's game, Williams was diagnosed with a left oblique strain and received treatment.

McClendon is cautiously optimistic that Williams will be able to make his next scheduled start Thursday against Arizona, but he sees no reason to put the lefty back on the mound if he is not completely healthy.

"If we're going to err it's going to be on the side of caution. This guy is going into uncharted territory, [three] years removed from surgery," said McClendon. "He now has [138 2/3] innings. That evaluation will be ongoing as well, no different than Duke and the rest of those young pitchers."

Down on the farm: The Bucs' top two Minor League affiliates will have the opportunity to determine their playoff fates this holiday weekend.

Triple-A Indianapolis was defeated, 2-0, by Louisville on Saturday, but it retained a one-game lead over Columbus in the International League wild-card race with two games left to play.

Double-A Altoona topped Bowie, 3-1, Saturday. The two teams are tied for the final Eastern League playoff spot with two games remaining in their season-ending series.

The Pirates do not plan to recall prospects from either team if they make it to the postseason unless there is a specific need at the big-league level. Any forthcoming promotions would come after the Minor League seasons.

"I do think there are benefits for the players that we are looking at, considering their age and experience level, to continue to play when games mean something and if they end up getting into the playoffs," said Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. "Those are helpful versus the general part-time play that you get up here because they'll get that a week from now or five days from now."

Quote of the day: I can't emphasize enough that every game counts and everything that takes place on the field with these guys is important in the decisions that you make in a variety of ways. ... Obviously, we're out of the race and there is a view that you are just getting ready for next year. But the fact is, with the number of games that we have left, a lot is still to be determined by what guys do and where they are going to be for next year." -- Littlefield, on evaluating players in September

On deck: The Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks will begin a three-game series Tuesday at PNC Park. Rookie southpaw Paul Maholm (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will look to build upon his debut, in which he pitched eight shutout innings, when he squares off against Arizona right-hander Javier Vazquez (10-14, 4.80 ERA).

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