Done trying to beat Brewers, Duke looks to join them

Done trying to beat Brewers, Duke looks to join them

PHOENIX -- Zach Duke always had trouble beating the Brewers as a starting pitcher, so he's joined them as a reliever.

The left-hander and former National League All-Star is in Milwaukee's camp as a non-roster invitee, bidding to win a job in the bullpen. Last season was Duke's first as a full-time reliever, and after poor early-season results as a long man in Washington (8.71 ERA in 12 games, including a start), Duke found a rhythm in shorter stints with the Reds. He posted a 0.84 ERA in 14 games down the stretch.

"It didn't go very well for me in Washington. I figured out that long relief was not really my role," Duke said. "For whatever reason, my mental make-up doesn't work for that. I feel like I do better when the leverage of the game is on my shoulders. I was put in situations in Cincinnati, but in Triple-A and in the big leagues, where I was put in pressure situations late in the game, I really excelled. I figured out a couple of weapons to combat against lefties a little bit."

Duke has a long history with the Brewers. He made his Major League debut for the Pirates at Miller Park against them on July 2, 2005 and struck out nine batters, a personal best that still stands today. His first big league strikeout was Rickie Weeks, the only player from that Brewers team who remains today. Duke said he still has the baseball at home.

He beat the Brewers in the final game of the '05 season to prevent Milwaukee from posting its first winning record since 1992, but otherwise struggled with a usually right-handed-heavy Brewers lineup. In 23 career matchups, including 18 starts, Duke is 5-8 with a 5.99 ERA.

Now he's part of the team.

"Opportunity" Duke said, when asked what drove him to Milwaukee. "I looked at their 40-man roster, and then in Triple-A, Double-A, there weren't a lot of lefties around. Other teams were offering jobs to me, but I figured this was my best opportunity to get a big league job."

His former Pirates teammate, Tom Gorzelanny, is expected to play a significant left-handed role in the Brewers' bullpen, but could miss the start of the season if he has any setbacks with a surgically-repaired shoulder. Another left-hander, Will Smith, was originally to report to camp as a starter, but the Brewers' acquisition of Matt Garza pushed Smith to relief. The Brewers also have left-hander Wei-Chung Wang in camp as a Rule 5 pick and will see if he fits the bullpen plan.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.