Duke still adjusting to inconsistent workload

A very happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, especially my own, who is as good as they get, in my book.

Players will be wearing pink cleats, wristbands, batting gloves and arm sleeves and using pink bats today in support of breast cancer awareness, and all baseballs used across Major League Baseball today will have pink stitches.

Bryce Harper will even use a pink glove.

I discussed Stephen Strasburg's fifth-inning struggles at length yesterday, but the guy who followed him to the mound in the Nationals' 8-2 loss didn't fare too well, either.

Zach Duke retired just two of the seven batters he faced yesterday and failed to get out of the sixth inning. He ended up allowing four runs on four hits with one hit batter and one wild pitch. The outing inflated the left-hander's season ERA to 8.40.

Duke openly admits he's still adjusting to the role of a long reliever after spending the bulk of his previous eight years in the big leagues as a starter. Of his 189 career appearances coming into this season, 168 had been as a starter, a role in which he had a consistent workload and knew when he'd be used.

As a reliever, obviously, he's used far more inconsistently, something that has been a change for the 30-year-old.

"Sure, I'm used to having 40, 50 innings at this point in the year," Duke said. "Instead, I've had nine appearances and 15 innings, I guess. So yeah, it's an adjustment, for sure. There's things I'm figuring out I need to do more of every day just to make sure I'm ready.

"I throw flat grounds almost every day, try to get some bullpens every few days that I don't pitch, and I've got some drills I'm incorporating now. Doing everything I can."

Duke entered yesterday's game having not stepped foot on a major league mound in 11 days, with a three-inning outing against the Braves back on April 30 serving as his last game action. You could understand if he felt like he wasn't completely prepared after such a long layoff, but Duke says he was ready to go. The results just weren't what he wanted.

"I think mentally I was fine," Duke said. "I show up every day prepared to pitch. The main thing is, without the repetition, physically you get out of a consistent delivery. Regardless of how much work you do in between, once you get on the game mound, things speed up and it becomes a little different animal. The intensity is up a bit and you have to harness it in and just stay within yourself. That's something I'm battling right now."

Duke's first outing this season was a rocky one (he allowed five earned runs over 2 2/3 innings against the Reds), and his four-run effort yesterday was another one he'd like to forget. Excluding those two outings, Duke has posted a respectable 3.86 ERA on the season.

He knows the results need to be better, but feels he's not far from putting things together on a more consistent basis.

"Outside of yesterday," Duke said, pausing and smiling, "I feel like obviously the results haven't been quite what I expect them to be, but at the same time, two, three plays go differently, my numbers look a lot different. I'm pleased with how it is, I feel good, I just have to go out and be more consistent.

"The main thing is I just put this one behind me (and) go back out there. Hopefully I get in there today and have different results."

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