BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to copy the Tampa Bay Rays' formula for going from bad to good in a short time. For at least one day, they figured out how to play the Rays' game.
Zach Duke pitched five shutout innings and Jack Wilson's two doubles led to a pair of two-run innings created in part by their baserunning, helping the Pirates beat the Rays 4-1 on Monday.Duke gave the Pirates their second strong start in three days, following up Paul Maholm's six shutout innings against Cincinnati on Saturday by limiting Tampa Bay to two hits -- lowering his ERA to 1.83. Duke has allowed only three earned runs in 18 2-3 innings in his last five starts.The Pirates badly need Duke to again resemble the pitcher who was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA as a rookie in 2005. He is 18-37 since that season and, so far this spring, providing hope that he might be able to bounce back."I think he's got a different outlook on what he's doing and his confidence level is showing, too," manager John Russell said. "He's able to execute pitches and he's using both sides of the plate. He's been very consistent and he's on a very good track right now of being ready for the season."One of Duke's problems has been letting innings get out of hand. That didn't happen in the fourth when, with two on and one out, he struck out Pat Burrell looking and got Matt Joyce to ground out.Russell wants the Pirates to be like the Rays -- though he hasn't mentioned them by name -- by hitting for power and creating runs on the bases, as Tampa Bay did last year by leading the American League in steals.Eric Hinske, the former Rays outfielder, got the Pirates' two-run second going against Jason Hammel by turning a double into the right-center gap into a triple, a baserunning gamble that allowed him to score on Brandon Moss' grounder. Duke, batting for the first time this spring, followed with a double and scored on Wilson's double."It was ugly," Hammel said.The Pirates also stole three bases, two by leadoff hitter Nyjer Morgan and one by Steve Pearce."You've got to take your opportunities when you can get them," Russell said. "We got thrown out early in camp, but we still wanted to be very aggressive, and now we've kind of got it balanced out. It gives us the opportunity to manufacture some runs and get guys into scoring position."Wilson has spent most of camp reworking his swing and, despite his .143 average, is getting some results after coming out of an 0-for-23 slump on Saturday. He also doubled and scored during a two-run fourth inning."You don't get frustrated, all you do is keep working on it and hopefully at some point it clicks," Wilson said. "You don't expect results, you just keep working on it."Hammel, competing to be the Rays' No. 5 starter, helped the Pirates by walking five. He gave up six hits over four frustrating innings that followed an encouraging pregame warmup."I probably had the best bullpen I've had before a game," said Hammel, who had problems controlling his fastball. "I've got to bring that into the game and set the tone early. Today, I didn't do that. I didn't set the tone, and look what happened. I was behind constantly."
A brief shower delayed the start by 17 minutes on a windy, 68-degree day. ... The Pirates' next three games are at night. ... LHP John Grabow may return to the Pirates from the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday. ... Gabe Gross' RBI double in the eighth off Chris Bootcheck produced Tampa Bay's only run. ... RH Jeff Niemann, another candidate to be the Rays' No. 5 starter, will pitch Wednesday.