ATLANTA -- Only one month into his major-league career, Zach Duke is pitching like a stopper for Pittsburgh.
Duke (4-0) outpitched Tim Hudson to become the first Pirates starter in 35 years to begin his career with a 4-0 record. Jim Nelson opened 4-0 in 1970.
"For him to come in and do what he's done, we didn't know he was this good," Pittsburgh outfielder Jason Bay said. "Every team has a guy -- a John Smoltz or whoever -- that they turn to, and he seems to be that guy for us."
Braves manager Bobby Cox wasn't comparing Duke to his ace, Smoltz, but he said Duke "was tough all day long."
"That kid, I don't know how he went in the 20th round," Cox said, referring to the 2001 draft. "Somebody did a good scouting job. Or a bad scouting job. He's as good as they come. He knows what he's doing, man."
Added Braves third baseman Chipper Jones: "The Pirates got a gem."
In 39 1/3 innings spanning five starts, Duke has allowed only four earned runs for a 0.92 ERA. His streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run ended at 30 when the Braves scored in the fifth. It was the first earned run allowed by Duke since the fifth inning of his major-league debut on July 2 in Milwaukee.
"I'm just trying to absorb it all and take it for what it is," Duke said. "I'm not a guy who gets complacent. I'm always looking to the next start."
The 22-year-old Duke allowed an unearned run in his 8-1 win over Colorado on July 21. He then pitched two shutout innings against Florida on July 27 but did not return following a rain delay.
The left-hander gave up seven hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings Monday, the longest outing of his brief career. He struck out two, helping Pittsburgh avoid a four-game sweep.
"I got to see him do this in the minor leagues the last two years," Duffy said. "He's the most focused pitcher I've played with. You can see he gets in a zone."
Duke said he thought he was strong enough to complete the game, but he didn't argue with manager Lloyd McClendon's decision to bring in Mesa. Duke threw 108 pitches.
"My closer gets paid to do a job," McClendon said.
Duke gave up three hits in the fifth but otherwise shut down the NL East-leading Braves, who were denied their first undefeated homestand of seven or more games since April 2000. They swept a three-game series from Washington before winning the first three against Pittsburgh.
Duke led all major-league starters who threw at least 25 innings in July with a 0.87 ERA, and he maintained the momentum in his first start against Atlanta, though his ERA rose slightly.
"He was outstanding once again," McClendon said. "He exhibited tremendous poise."
Asked about the rookie being the staff's stopper, McClendon said: "He's stopped the last two. He's certainly very consistent."
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Bay singled to left, stole second, moved to third on Daryle Ward's infield hit and scored on Castillo's sharp single.
The Braves tied it in the fifth. Francoeur hit a one-out double and scored on Johnny Estrada's double, but Hudson (7-6) hit into a double play.
The Pirates answered quickly in the sixth when Castillo's ninth homer drove in Rob Mackowiak, who led off with a single, for a 3-1 lead.
Duffy, the rookie leadoff hitter, hit his first major-league homer in the seventh to push the lead to 4-1. Duffy had two hits.
Hudson gave up eight hits and four runs in 6 1/3 innings. He was denied his 100th career victory. He is now 99-45.
- Bay fouled a ball off his left knee in the fifth inning and departed in the sixth with a bruised knee. "I'm fine," he said.
- Hudson hit into double plays in the third and fifth.
- Duffy has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts.