Though suffering through yet another losing season, the Pirates’ future isn’t totally grim, not if you consider the case of rookie starter Zach Duke. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Chico Harlan :

The Pirates’ 8-1 victory last night against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park relieved the headaches, if only briefly, for a team that had lost five in a row and was staggering after perhaps its most inept week of the season.

Zach Duke (above, 3-0), allowing one run in seven innings, earned his third major-league victory in four starts. His ERA — 0.93 — is practically smaller than sales tax. When the Rockies scored their only run last night in the sixth inning, it snapped Duke’s scoreless innings streak at 22. Still, the run scored on a throwing error by Jack Wilson, meaning that Duke, even now, hasn’t allowed an earned run since the fifth inning of his big-league debut July 2.

Since then, he’s become the aspirin for losing streaks. His shutout last weekend against the Cubs ended a three-game skid. His performance against Colorado halted a five-game string of losses, which had tied for the Pirates’ longest of the season.

Duke already has made a habit of besting the best. He defeated Greg Maddox in Chicago. In a minor-league start earlier this year, he even outdueled Curt Schilling, on a rehab start with Pawtucket. But last night, Duke stared at a less glamorous challenge, facing a starting lineup without a single player batting over .290.

Though he allowed eight hits, and though his pitches lacked the poetic precision of his previous start, he breezed through the Colorado order. Whenever Duke faced danger, he ducked out of it. In the second inning, for instance, when the Rockies placed runners on first and third, Duke induced Danny Ardoin to bounce weakly back to the mound.

“My arm just didn’t feel very lively,” Duke said. “But you just have to focus on each pitch.”