In a season that hasn't been as successful as the Pirates hoped it would be, rookie Zach Duke has given Pittsburgh a reason to be positive for the future.During the month of August, Duke has especially impressed. The Pirates left-hander went 3-0 over five starts and was voted the National League Rookie of the Month for his effort. "He's got the whole package," said former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's got stuff. And along with the stuff, he has the mental makeup. Those are the types of guys that you build around and get excited about." Duke led all rookie starters with a 2.83 ERA and finished the month with 28 2/3 innings pitched, allowing nine runs on 27 hits, and striking out 17. He outpaced stiff competition for the award. Other rookies considered included Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur (.312, four homers, 15 RBIs), Philadelphia's Ryan Howard (.307, five homers, 16 RBIs), and Florida's Jason Vargas (4-2, 4.46 ERA). "I expected to have some success, but this has really surpassed every expectation that I had," Duke said. "I'm kind of on cloud nine right now, and I'm very confident. But I'm not going to get complacent. I still have a lot of work to do." Duke is 6-0 on the season with a 1.81 ERA in 10 starts, including 44 strikeouts to just 16 walks over 59 2/3 innings. He also became the first Pirates rookie to win his first six decisions, all as a starter. "I don't think I've seen a kid as young as he is, as poised as he is in my 10-year career," Pirates reliever Rick White said. "He's phenomenal. He's real relaxed. He doesn't go with whatever the catcher puts down, he has an idea." He assembled a string of nine consecutive scoreless innings before leaving a game against the Cardinals on Aug. 23 with a sprained left ankle and was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day. Though there is less than a month before the end of the season, Duke is working hard to get back into the Pirates rotation and is expected to be ready to pitch when he is eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 8. "My motto as I was coming up was, 'Hard work can beat talent if talent doesn't work hard.' That's kind of what I've worked at," Duke said. "There are lots of players with more talent than me. But I refuse to be outworked."
Andrew Worob is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.