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ARI@HOU: Duke belts a three-shot in the fourth

HOUSTON -- The D-backs had to wait almost two months to get their first look at Zach Duke, but the left-hander proved to be worth the wait.

Duke tossed seven outstanding innings and helped his own cause with a three-run homer as the D-backs beat the Astros, 11-3, on Saturday night in front of 31,405 at Minute Maid Park.

The D-backs, who have won 11 of their last 12 games and 13 of 15, go for the sweep of the series on Sunday.

"It's been nice, but you don't let your head get too big and you just try to focus on the next game that you have, never get satisfied and understand it's a long season," outfielder Chris Young said. "We still have four months left, so we just have to take it seriously and continue to battle, continue to grind."

Duke, who broke his pitching hand early in Spring Training, was activated before the game and retired the first 10 Astros he faced before Clint Barmes hit a single.

"I was able to get into a good rhythm early on and really pound the zone with my sinker, and that got me a lot of ground balls," Duke said. "The sinker was really good, got some outs with changeups and threw a couple of good curveballs as well. So, really, there wasn't anything that wasn't really on. I left a couple of cutters up, but that's about it."

After Barmes' single, Duke proceeded to set down another six straight. Overall, the left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while striking out four over seven scoreless innings.

"He kept switching it up on people," Astros second baseman Bill Hall said. "Obviously, when the lefties came up, he was throwing some sliders and some changeups, and just kind of kept guys off balance. He missed the barrel a lot, and the times he did put it on the barrel it went right at somebody. He got out to that early lead and he built on it the rest of the game."

The D-backs gave Duke a 2-0 lead in the second. Houston starter Bud Norris balked home Stephen Drew for the first run, and Gerardo Parra capped things with a sacrifice fly.

Two innings later, the D-backs capitalized on an error by Hall to score four unearned runs.

Drew led off the fourth with a single to right and should have been caught stealing second, but Hall could not hang onto the throw from catcher J.R. Towles.

Miguel Montero followed with an RBI double, and one out later, the Astros decided to intentionally walk Parra to get to Duke, who came into the game with a career .167 batting average.

Duke fell behind in the count, 0-2, before lifting a fly ball deep to left that landed in the first row of the Crawford Boxes for a three-run homer, the first of his career.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Duke said.

Did he think the ball was out when he hit it?

"No, not at all," Duke said. "I rounded first base looking for the ball and didn't see it, so I shocked myself."

Ironically, one day earlier, Duke had said he was not a fan of the Crawford Boxes because they were so close to home plate. Following Saturday's game, he jokingly amended his comment.

"Unless I'm hitting, then they're OK to be there," he said.

The D-backs added some insurance runs in the eighth when Montero singled home a run and Parra added a two-run homer to put Arizona up 9-0. They added two more runs in the top of the ninth, before the Astros scored three in the bottom half of the inning off reliever Zach Kroenke.

"We got after it and we tacked on, and that's what we want to do," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

Given that Duke is a veteran, his teammates were familiar with him, but they hadn't seen him pitch in person this year, other than his four Spring Training outings.

"Dukie tonight was lights out," Young said. "It was nice to see. It was a little unexpected, honestly. I mean, I know how good he is, but you expect a guy first time out to just kind of be feeling his way around a little bit, getting back into the groove of things, but he looked like he had been here since Day 1. He didn't leave many balls over the middle of the plate. He was putting his pitches where he wanted them." Comments