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Notes: Duffy starting things off right

Notes: Duffy starting things off right

LOS ANGELES -- After the many highs and lows for center fielder Chris Duffy in 2006, observers weren't sure exactly what Pittsburgh would get from him this season. Luckily for him, one of the believers was manager Jim Tracy.

"Chris is our everyday center fielder," he reiterated.

That was the position Duffy was in last year as the season started, but after getting off to a rocky start, he was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis in May, and instead of reporting, Duffy decided that he needed a little time away from the game to regroup.

"I didn't feel right, I didn't feel like myself," Duffy said at the time.

In most cases that would end a player's relationship with a team, but the Pirates were patient, and when he reported a month later, he did so with a renewed enthusiasm. By August he was back in the Pirates lineup. Unfortunately, so were his struggles at the plate, as he started off 3-for-32.

Tracy's belief in what Duffy could do, however, did not waiver, and it began to pay off as Duffy hit .315 over the final 45 games of the season. He finished with 26 stolen bases in 27 attempts, the best percentage for players with over 25 steals in the Majors.

The question then became which Duffy the Pirates were going to see this season, and so far Tracy has been pleased with what he's gotten -- a .279 average after he led off Sunday's game with a single.

"His on-base percentage is what you want from your leadoff guy," Tracy said, "He's giving the guys behind him a chance to drive him in."

As for his low stolen base total before Sunday (he got two in the first three innings for a total of four), that's been more of a factor of situation than intent.

"A lot of pitchers have been holding me pretty good," Duffy said. "And it seems there's been a lot of guys on ahead of me, so I haven't been able to run."

Neither of which is a primary concern.

"I don't really consider myself a runner," he admitted, "I like to steal when I think I have a pretty good shot at making it, but I don't try to force it."

And not forcing things, or putting too much pressure on himself, is exactly what is helping make Duffy the kind of player that the Pirates thought he could be.

"I feel good and want to do more stuff," he said,, "but as far as playing the game, I'm excited and feeling good."

And according to Tracy, "He's doing exactly what is needed of him."

Cold bats: Though the Pittsburgh bats have not always done their part so far this season, Tracy is not ready to panic yet, preferring to point out the team's .500 road record and the pitching of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and the bullpen.

"Considering that we have a few guys in our lineup that are searching for their niche," Tracy said, "to be able to hold our heads above water while we're working toward that is something you've got to do if you want to be a good ballclub.

One of those whose struggles have been most obvious is new Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, whose average had dropped to .094 entering Sunday's game.

"You know what it's going to be for me?" LaRoche asked. "It's going to be driving a couple balls the other way, even if they're outs." he said, answering his own question.

"I want to get back to where I'm using the whole field."

Though Tracy doesn't think that the rest of the team is pressing, trying to do too much to compensate for the lack of offense, it is something he is aware could happen.

"Hopefully, we'll start to find our way before that happens," he said.

Injury update: The news is as good as it can be regarding Xavier Nady's left hamstring strain. According to Tracy, Nady responded well when examined Saturday night and showed very good strength in his leg. He'll be worked on Sunday and again Tuesday back in Pittsburgh and is considered to be day-to-day.

"We might have dodged a bullet," said an optimistic Tracy.

As for Pirates reliever John Grabow, who pitched Saturday for Triple-A Indianapolis, he is expected to rejoin the team in the early part of the week, if all the reports are satisfactory.

Down on the farm: Double-A Altoona's Alay Soler won his first game of the season, throwing five scoreless innings as the Curve defeated Harrisburg, 7-1. Soler has a 1.80 ERA after three starts. In the same game, Altoona first baseman Randy Ruiz hit his fourth home run of the season and had two RBIs, bringing his season total to 12 to go along with a .300 average.

On deck: Lefty Paul Maholm (0-2, 6.19 ERA) takes the mound on Tuesday, as the Pirates return home and open a three-game series against Houston. Woody Williams (0-2, 6.55) will pitch for the Astros in a 7:05 p.m. ET start.

Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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