"I love Pittsburgh, but I like to be outside, and it's hard to be outside in the winter when you live in the North," Duke said. "I just thought it was the best thing all the way around to move back to Texas. The weather makes it easier to work out, and I thought I needed a break from Pittsburgh so I could kind of separate my personal life from my professional life and really have more of an offseason."
It would be easy to see why Duke wanted to get away from Pittsburgh at the end of 2008.
Just two pitchers in the National League had more losses, as Duke went 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts. The Giants' Barry Zito was 10-17, and the Nationals' John Lannan finished 9-15.
However, Duke has looked like a different pitcher through his first four appearances this spring, allowing two runs in 9 2/3 innings.
Duke credits his spring success to hiring what he calls "an arm-strengthening specialist" once he settled into the Dallas/Fort Worth area last fall.
"We did a lot of work on getting my arm stronger than it's ever been through a series of exercises and stretching," Duke said. "I really feel great. I'm not the type of guy who is ever going to blow guys away with my fastball, but I do feel like I have a little more on it than the last few years."
--RF Brandon Moss suffered a badly bruised and mildly sprained right thumb while attempting to make a diving catch in a March 7 exhibition game against Minnesota. While Moss is out indefinitely, doctors are confident he will be ready to play in the April 6 opener at St. Louis. Moss originally feared he had torn ligament in the thumb, an injury that would have required surgery and forced him to miss eight to 10 weeks.
--LHP Phil Dumatrait suffered another setback in his recovery from last August's arthroscopic shoulder surgery and almost certainly will begin the season on the disabled list. Dumatrait is not expected to be able to pitch in any exhibition games this spring, meaning he will likely remain in extended spring training to build up arm strength.
--INF/OF Eric Hinske, expected to be a key reserve, had yet to play since the second game of the exhibition season because of a bruised left ribcage. However, he had begun swinging off a tee and throwing, which means he should return to action sometime early in the week of March 16-22.
--RHP Romulo Sanchez was the first player on the 40-man roster to be sent to the minor leagues as he was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis after pitching just 1 2/3 innings in exhibition games. The Pirates were unhappy that Sanchez reported out of shape and also wanted him to go to minor league camp to work out mechanical problems with delivery.
--LHP Daniel Haigwood, C Miguel Perez and INF Pedro Lopez were reassigned to minor league camp. The three had been signed to minor league contracts as free agents during the offseason.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Home runs non-roster OF Craig Monroe hit against Minnesota, which released him last August, in an exhibition game on March 12. That raised Monroe's total to a major league-leading six.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You never go into a game expecting to hit three home runs. I don't know what to say other than I'm feeling really good at the plate right now." -- OF Craig Monroe, after hitting three homers in a March 12 game against the Twins.