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PIRATES Duckworth contends for a pitching berth


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


He pitched five scoreless innings in a 2-2 tie with Tampa Bay on Monday.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates had plenty of candidates to replace Kip Wells in their rotation when the right-hander was lost for at least half the season following surgery to repair a blocked artery.
The names most mentioned: Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett, Victor Santos, Ryan Vogelsong.
But with opening day less than two weeks away, Brandon Duckworth -- a former Phillies and Astros pitcher -- is making a big push to be one of the Pirates' five starters. He helped himself Monday by pitching five scoreless innings in a 2-2, 11-inning tie with Tampa Bay, limiting the Devil Rays to a pair of singles in the first inning and striking out three.
"That was his best outing," manager Jim Tracy said. "He threw four pitches for strikes and he pounded the strike zone."
Asked if Duckworth has been the biggest surprise of the Pirates' staff, Tracy didn't reply with the standard "We always expected good things from him" response.
"Yes, he has been," Tracy said. "[Pitching coach] Jim Colborn did a little tinkering with his grip, tightening it up with his breaking ball, and he had as good a breaking ball today as I've seen. He threw terrific."
Had some success in 2002
Duckworth has had some success in the majors, going 8-9 for the Phillies in 2002 and making 66 career starts. But he had some run-ins with former Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa, and was later dealt to Houston in the trade that sent closer Billy Wagner to the Phillies.
But with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt ahead of him on perhaps the majors' deepest starting staff, Duckworth didn't get many opportunities to start for the Astros, going 1-3 in 26 games the last two seasons. He signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent in December, mostly because general manager Dave Littlefield promised him an opportunity to start.


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