A year after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals from the Chicago White Sox, left-hander Zach Duke has returned to offer help for the Cardinals’ beleaguered bullpen.
Duke, 34, was activated from the disabled list Friday, returning with two-plus months remaining in the season. Tommy John surgery was supposed to sideline Duke for the entire year.
“It was a full overhaul,” Duke said Monday, unable to account for his quick recovery. “I don’t know. A lot of concentrated work, a great rehab program. I don’t really know how to explain it all other than my body kept responding well and I kind of rolled with it.
“It was a great group effort to this point right now. ... I’ve taken a lot of pride in proving people wrong throughout my career and in my life, really. I felt like I could get back quicker and was determined to do it.”
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Duke underwent surgery in early October and also pitched in his first game Friday, less than 300 days later. His comeback is even more remarkable considering Duke also had his left forearm flexor muscle repaired.
“One, I wanted to help this team. Two, I’m a free agent at the end of the year and I need to prove I’m healthy. Three, I feel like I can still get guys out,” Duke said. “I just wanted to attack each day, challenge myself and see how much I could push it.”
Duke pitched Monday against Colorado, allowing two runs and not retiring a batter in the Cardinals’ 8-2 triumph over the Rockies.
The Cardinals’ bullpen is 9-20 with a 3.99 ERA. It was unable to protect two 2-0 leads over the weekend as the Cardinals dropped a series to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“Everybody’s had their struggles down in the pen,” Duke said. “But the talent and the ability is still there. Look at the track records of everybody. There’s a lot of good ability down there. If we can just put it together, slide some guys in where they’re comfortable, then there’s still a chance we can really solidify games here.”
Duke doesn’t consider the Cardinals’ situation hopeless, even though they trail Milwaukee by four games, the Cubs by 3 1/2 and and the Pirates by one. The Cardinals were nine games behind in the wild-card race, which likely means they will have to overtake their three division rivals to earn a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s go time,” Duke said. “We need to win games. I’ll do everything I can to help us do that. We’re still in the race. There’s a lot of games left to make up 4 1/2 games. A lot of time left. We’re playing a better brand of baseball. We’re in just about every game. The opportunity is still there for us. We just have to be willing to go out and take it.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm