MILWAUKEE -- Early last year, left-hander Zach Duke couldn't find his niche with the Nationals. He was the only lefty in the bullpen and hardly used. When Duke was used -- mostly as a long reliever -- he was hit hard.
The Nationals released Duke on June 10, 2013. Duke said he was surprised that he wasn't used that much while in a Nationals uniform.
"I was told coming out of Spring Training that I was going to be the lefty match-up guy ... if a starter went down I could get some innings," Duke said. "It turned out I was never really used for lefty situations. It was really tough to stay sharp. I've never been a long man before. I really don't have any interest of doing it again. It's a tough position. To me, it's the toughest."
Then his career turned around for the better after he signed a Minor League deal with the Reds four days after his release from the Nationals. He changed his mechanics, starting throwing sidearm and became more consistent on the mound. It also helped that Duke was getting words of encouragement from Triple A Louisville manager Jim Riggleman, and later from then-Reds manager Dusty Baker. Duke's talks with Riggleman and Baker convinced Duke to continue his Major League career.
Good thing Duke did, for he is one of the reasons the Brewers are in first place in the National League Central. Duke is currently a lefty specialist, and he entered Tuesday with a 1.53 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
"I'm giving hitters something to think about. It made things that much better," Duke said. "I've always felt I could contribute to a winning team. Unfortunately with the Nationals, there weren't a lot of opportunities to help that team.
"[With the Brewers], I feel like anytime I come in, it's a close game. I have things on my shoulders and I love those situations."
ASG candidate LaRoche was ready to pitch in 16th
MILWAUKEE -- The Nationals defeated the Brewers, 4-2, in a 16-inning marathon Tuesday night at Miller Park. Ryan Zimmerman hit the game-winning home run in the top of the 16th inning.
Had the game remained tied going into the bottom of the 16th, Nationals manager Matt Williams announced that first baseman Adam LaRoche would have made his Major League debut as a pitcher. The last time LaRoche pitched in a professional game was in 2003, when he was with Double-A Greenville, a Braves affiliate.
"After his at-bat, I told him to go in the cage and throw a little bit. It turned out, we scored." Williams said.
Zimmerman said he would not have liked to see LaRoche in the game.
"I'm sure Roche is probably mad at me for hitting the home run. I guess I have to see it another time," Zimmerman joked.
Reliever Tyler Clippard said it would have been fun to watch LaRoche on the mound.
"That's not the ideal situation, but at the end of the day, we heard a lot about Roche's ability to pitch from Roche," Clippard said. "So if he were to get in there, we would have been all eyes on hand and hopefully he would have done well. I'm glad it didn't get to that point."
LaRoche may not have pitched in Tuesday's game, but he does deserve to play in his first All-Star Game. Why? He is arguably the Nationals' best hitter, leading the team in batting average (.311) and on-base percentage (.424) entering Wednesday's game. And let's not forget to mention that he is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game.
"He has made a great case [to be on the All-Star team]," Williams said. "Any time you miss time [because of an injury], it's difficult. … He has played really well."
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.
Taylor, Giolito named to Futures Game roster
MILWAUKEE -- The Nationals will have two prospects -- outfielder Michael Taylor and right-hander Lucas Giolito -- playing for the U.S. Team in the 2014 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
An excellent defensive outfielder, all Taylor needed to do was hit the baseball on a more consistent basis, something he hadn't done until this year. Entering Tuesday's action, Taylor was hitting .333 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs for Double A Harrisburg.
"He is in the proper position to hit on a more consistent basis," assistant general manager Doug Harris said. "He has made adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. In the past it would take a week or more to get [out of a slump]."
Giolito, who was Washington's first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. In 11 starts for Class A Hagerstown, Giolito, 19, is 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings.
"He is a very mature young man. He applies information very quickly. That is the most impressive thing about him," Harris said.
The 16th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game will take place at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 13, at Target Field in Minneapolis, and it can be seen live on MLB.com and MLB Network, and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the event live on MLB Network Radio XM 89 and Sirius channel 209. MLB.com will also provide complete coverage before, during and after the game.
Fans can stay updated by following @MLBFutures on Twitter and can send and receive tweets to and from the U.S. and World Team dugouts during the game by tagging tweets with the hashtags #USDugout and #WorldDugout.
Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 Major League clubs, selected the 25 players currently on each team.
Each Major League organization is represented, and players from all full-season Minor Leagues were eligible to participate. Complete Futures Game rosters, prospect analysis and rankings can be found at mlb.com/pipeline.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.