Zach Duke is one of the few Nationals pitchers to have started a game this season. However, he started the games in Triple A Syracuse. With Duke’s ability to start and the fact that he showed the ability to get major league hitters out, he could become a candidate to sneak into the Nationals 2013 rotation.
2012 Projection (ZiPS): 7-9, 4.85 ERA, 25 games (20 starts), 128 IP, 67 K, 33 BB
2012 Actual: 1-0, 1.32 ERA, 8 games (0 starts), 13.2 IP, 10 K, 4 BB
To know what Duke can contribute, you have to go back to his rookie year. Duke, just 22, went 8-2 in 14 starts with a 1.81 ERA. Then, his numbers adjusted to big league time but he was still a serviceable major league pitcher obscured a bit by being in Pittsburgh. Unlike some pitchers who have had a downturn in performance, Duke has not had serious injury problems, missing just part of one season with elbow inflammation according to Baseball Prospectus.
Duke spent 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then became a free agent. After starting Spring Training with the Houston Astros, he was released and picked up a few days later by the Nationals. He was a pretty good starter in Syracuse going 15-5 with an ERA of 3.51. That earned him his promotion in September with the Nationals and having pitched well, had an outside shot at the playoff roster.
Most assume with him being a left-handed reliever that he struggles against right handers. That was simply not the case. Duke actually wasn’t even used as a LOOGY by Davey Johnson. He faced more right handed batters than left and fared better against them. The fact that the Nationals will need a fifth starter (assuming they don’t pick up anyone and let Edwin Jackson go) means that Duke can be a low-risk option with a lot of upside.
At the very least, he proved he can be a very good bullpen option and should be given a real chance to make the team in 2013 should he remain with the team.
Season Highlight: Duke entered a game down 5-4 against Atlanta on Sept. 15 with the bases loaded and only one out. He then got Reed Johnson to strike out swinging and got Michael Bourn to ground out weakly to get out of the inning without allowing a run. The Nationals couldn’t score in the 9th and still lost but Duke gave them every chance to keep it close.
Chien Ming Wang