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Duke named Opening Day starter

Duke named Opening Day starter

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Hours after filling out the rotation, the Pirates have now lined it up.

Following the Pirates' 11-1 loss to the Astros on Tuesday, manager John Russell announced that Zach Duke will take the mound for the Bucs' April 5 season opener against the Dodgers at PNC Park. He will be followed in the rotation by Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen, in that order. McCutchen was named the fifth starter earlier on Tuesday.

In explaining his decision to give the team's first start to Duke, Russell said the choice was dictated more by the way the spring pitching schedule is mapped out than anything else. Right now, Duke is scheduled to make two more Grapefruit League starts, one on March 26 and his last one five days later. He'll then have a normal four days of rest heading into the season opener.

"Realistically, you could've picked any one of the three," Russell said. "Ross had a great finish. Zach made an All-Star team. Paul is your consistent, steady starter. It's not like an accolade or praise for one guy. It's how we wanted to set the rotation going into the season. We felt like it balanced our rotation, and put guys in the position where it felt like we were going to be more successful."

By the time the announcement was officially made, Duke had already left McKechnie Field and was unavailable for comment.

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This will be the second Opening Day start for Duke, who made his first one back in 2007. The left-hander pitched seven strong innings in that outing, though the Pirates needed extra innings to pull out a win against the Astros.

He earned the nod to start the Pirates' home opener a year ago and responded with a gem. In front of a sellout crowd, Duke tossed a four-hit shutout, also against Houston.

Duke went on to earn his first All-Star invitation a few months later and established a career-best 11 wins. His three complete games in 2009 tied for third most in the National League, and he ranked 12th in the league with 213 innings pitched. Duke finished the year with an 11-16 record and a 4.06 ERA.

The decision to have Ohlendorf, not Maholm, follow Duke in the rotation was merely made to split up the two southpaws. Both will pitch in the Pirates' Opening Series at PNC Park, with Morton then taking the mound in the team's first game on the road on April 9 in Arizona.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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