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07/15/10 9:42 PM ET

Duke, Bucs look to start second half off right

PITTSBURGH -- Manager John Russell was as eager as his players were to get back on the field and resume the regular season on Thursday, one day before his Pirates host the Astros to start the second half.

"Everybody seems re-energized," Russell said at the Pirates' workout at PNC Park. "It's not just the break."

The Pirates ended the first half on a six-game slide and will have had four days off by the time Zach Duke takes the hill for them on Friday. It will be the first of 10 straight home games against the Astros, Brewers and Padres.

"Being home is going to be good for us," Russell said. "We're excited."

Duke will start for the first time since coming off the disabled list with a left elbow flexor pronator strain. His last start was June 16. The left-hander said he feels no added pressure to make a strong return in his first start off the DL and looks to get things started on the right foot for his club as it embarks on the back end of its season.

"I think I'm on a pitch count," Duke said. "I should have 75 pitches, just because I haven't gotten past that in a Minor League start yet. So I think that will be the limit, and hopefully that will be in the sixth inning and we'll be ahead."

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