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07/24/07 7:40 PM ET

Notes: Kata making an impression

Backup third baseman's hot streak earns him playing time

NEW YORK -- Back when Matt Kata was with the Diamondbacks, pining away the last of three frustrating seasons on the bench, the backup utilityman was still significant -- in Tony Clark's mind, at least.

Clark -- no stranger to second-string duties, either -- used to call Arizona's army of backups the "Significant Others," stressing that they needed to be ready to prove that significance in any way they could.

Now, Kata can.

When Jose Bautista went down with a lacerated left hand last week, his third-base post was supposed to fall into backup Jose Castillo's hands. And it did, at first, until Kata earned his own chance to fill the void.

That's when something funny happened: Kata started hitting. He was about the only one hitting, in fact, prompting Pirates manager Jim Tracy to keep him in for a second start. Then a third. And now a fourth.

Kata was back in the lineup over Castillo for the fourth straight game on Tuesday, leading off for the sixth time this season. And if he can provide a suddenly punchless offense with any spark at all, Tracy's use of a career bench player over a promising youngster can't take much heat.

"Let's face it," Tracy said. "You walk in here today when you're searching for offense -- you're desperately searching for some consistent offensive performance -- how can you not justify that?"

Kata's offense has been justification enough. In his previous three starts, the 29-year-old backup everything has mashed out five hits -- three of them doubles -- and scored twice. Signed for his versatility -- he's played six positions this season alone -- he's suddenly finding a groove through a type of consistent playing time that he hasn't seen since 2004.

"It's not like you try to go in there and get five hits in four at-bats," Kata said. You just have to try to do little things and provide some sort of spark to the lineup."

That job was supposed to be Castillo's, and when he first sat out, speculation reigned that Kata's backup buddy was headed to another city in a deadline deal. Time has nixed such a theory, making Kata's hot bat solely to blame.

"It has nothing to do with Jose," Tracy said. "It's the fact that this guy has been given an opportunity for a couple of days, and every day you walk in here and he's singled, or he's singled and doubled, or he's singled again, that's all. That's the bottom line.

And a significant bottom line, at that.

Pitch and putter: For all the pessimism surrounding a stretch that's seen the Pirates lose nine of their last 10 games, the one area that can't be blamed is pitching. Pittsburgh starters have allowed two runs or less in 47 of the team's 97 games this season -- over a third of which were losses -- and have strung together a 2.08 ERA over their last three games. The bullpen hasn't fared much worse, posting a 2.33 ERA in nine games since the All-Star break.

"That kind of had me reared back on my seat in the airplane yesterday," Tracy said. "Case in point -- our weekend this past weekend, where the opposition scores three runs in two days and beats us twice."

From the trainer's room: Injured starter Zach Duke played catch off flat ground for the first time on Monday, and will continue to do so every other day for the indefinite future. There remains no timetable when Duke will begin to pitch off a mound.

Outfielder Craig Duffy has begun to run on his sprained left ankle, but does not yet feel comfortable with his strength or stability. Duffy is due back in August.

Bautista, meanwhile, will have the stitches removed from his lacerated left hand on Wednesday. He'll resume baseball activities as soon as the pain allows, though it's not likely he'll come off the disabled list when eligible at the end of the month.

Regardless, Tracy remains optimistic.

"Something tells me knowing that kid," Tracy said, "he'll move fairly quickly."

Indy bound: Shortstop Don Kelly cleared waivers for the second time this season and was outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis. He'll join the team on Wednesday for the second of four games in Columbus.

Down on the farm: Lefty Michael Tejera pitched seven innings of two-run ball to lead Triple-A Indianapolis over Durham on Monday, 7-4. Designated hitter Michael Ryan tied Brad Eldred for the team lead with his 10th home run. ... First baseman Steven Pearce went 0-for-4 for Double-A Altoona, he was unable to reach base for what would have been a Curve-record 34th straight game. Starter Dewon Brazelton allowed eight runs in a 10-2 loss. ... Altoona outfielder Jason Delaney was named the Eastern League Player of the Week, after hitting .586 with three homers and 11 RBIs in seven games.

Coming up: A pair of lefties heading in different directions meet when 25-year-old Tom Gorzelanny takes on 41-year-old Tom Glavine in the second of three games between the Mets and Pirates at Shea on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET, when Gorzelanny tries to thwart Glavine's second attempt at career win No. 299.

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.