In 2005, Zach Duke was the leading vote-getter of any pitcher in the major leagues for Rookie of the Year. Duke finished fifth in the National League voting after compiling an 8-2 won-loss record with an outstanding ERA of 1.81 for the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.
Duke's future looked bright.
The following year he tailed off to a 10-15 record with an ERA of 4.47. And, in truth, those 2006 stats are very close to what now serve as his career averages.
Duke's 2009 season saw both personal highs and lows. He was named to the National League All-Star team, albeit primarily because the Pirates needed a representative on the squad. The second half of his season saw him slide to a league-leading 16 losses while winning just 11 times. Both totals are his career highs.
In 2010, Duke had his worst season as a Pirate, going 8-15 with a career-worst ERA of 5.72.
After the season, the Pirates traded Duke to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named later (that player eventually became Cesar Valdez).
In 2011, the Diamondbacks used Duke sparingly, both as a starter and as a situational reliever. Duke went 3-4 with one save and an ERA of 4.93. At the end of the season, Duke became a free agent.
Duke signed with the Houston Astros this past January 27th, and two months to the day later was released by them after four particularly poor appearances in spring training.
Will Duke ever be a useful pitcher for the Nats?
This past Thursday, the Washington Nationals signed Duke to a minor league contract, assigning him to their Triple-A affiliate, Syracuse.
So, what's the big deal you ask?
Well, while it's true the Nats find themselves as pitching-rich as they've ever been, taking a chance on a soon-to-be only 29-year-old veteran left-hander with over 1000 innings of major league experience would seem to be a risk worth taking.
It's not as if Duke is a flamethrower who's flame has gone out. He was never a hard thrower. And, as any baseball fan can tell you, you don't have to look hard to find numerous examples of cagey left-handers making a living tying left-handed batters in knots and making some right-handed hitters look like they're swinging at wiffle balls. Heck, a 49-year-old lefty, Jamie Moyer, just made the starting rotation in Colorado!
If Duke stays at it and unlocks the mystery so many lefties have, who couldn't break a pane of glass with a rock from six feet let alone 60' 6", the Nats may have just found a 20-year member of their pitching staff.
It's not likely, but it sure seems like a story worth following, and rooting for.