For the second consecutive season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will open their season against their Nationa League Central rivals from Milwaukee. And, for the second straight year, Oliver Perez will take the ball for the Bucs on Opening Day.

Perez hopes that the similarities will end there.

Perez's first Opening Day nod did not go well for him or the Bucs. Coming off the 2004 season in which he emerged as one of the dominant starters in the big leagues, the young southpaw was roughed up for six runs in five innings in a 9-2 Pittsburgh loss.

Perez does not expect a repeat performance this year.

"It's my second year, and this year I'm more prepared than last year," said Perez. "This year is going to be different. There are no problems. I feel good, and I'm happy to have the [Opening Day] start again."

Unfortunately for Perez, the 2005 Opening Day start was a sign of things to come. Plagued first by a stiff left shoulder, problems with his pitching mechanics and a fastball that was reaching the plate about 5 mph slower than the year before, Perez went 6-5 with a 6.15 ERA in his first 15 starts.

Then things got really bad.

Frustrated by what he thought was another subpar performance on June 26 against the St. Louis Cardinals, Perez kicked a laundry cart in the visiting clubhouse and broke his left big toe. He would not return to the mound again until Sept. 5.

Perez, predictably, is anxious to put the 2005 season behind him once and for all. The Opening Day bid will provide him with that opportunity right out of the box.

"Last year, I learned a lot," said Perez. "This year, I'm trying to use what I learned last year and not go back to being like that.

"We are in a new season. This is like a new team and I'm happy to have a chance to do my best to win the first game for this team."

Pirates manager Jim Tracy's decision to go with Perez on Opening Day was a surprise to those who assumed the new skipper would bestow the honor to Zach Duke after Duke's impressive showing as a rookie. Tracy, however, feels that it is critical for the team to have the more experienced Perez establish himself as the leader of the young Pittsburgh starting rotation.

"I think Oliver has been in the big leagues long enough to understand that it's time for him to step up and be a guy for this ballclub," said Tracy.

"I would be anxious to see the real Oliver Perez step forward and become who we all know he is capable of becoming."

Perez and the Bucs will face a Brewers team that shocked the baseball world in 2005 by winning 81 games and snapping a franchise streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons. Milwaukee won nine of the 16 meetings between the two teams last season, including five of eight at Miller Park.

With ace Ben Sheets still recovering from a strained back muscle, Brewers manager Ned Yost will turn to veteran lefty Doug Davis on Opening Day. Davis split his two decisions at home against Pittsburgh in 2005.

The Pirates have gone 5-5 in their last 10 season openers. In their last Opening Day game on the road, the Bucs defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 10-1, on March 31, 2003, in the first game ever played at Great American Ball Park.

Pitching matchup
PIT: LHP Oliver Perez
• 7-5, 5.85 ERA in 2005
• 0-1, 7.20 ERA in 2005 vs. MIL
• 1-1, 5.73 ERA lifetime vs. MIL

MIL: LHP Doug Davis
• 11-11, 3.84 ERA in 2005
• 2-1, 4.06 ERA in 2005 vs. PIT
• 3-2, 3.77 ERA lifetime vs. PIT

  Pirates probable lineup
 Pos.Name
1.CFChris Duffy
2.SSJack Wilson
3.1BSean Casey
4.LFJason Bay
5.RFJeromy Burnitz
6.3BJoe Randa
7.2BJose Castillo
8.CHumberto Cota
9.POliver Perez

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• MIL: FSN
• PIT: FSNP

On radio
• MIL: WTMJ
• PIT: KDKA

Roof
With forecasts calling for rain and temperatures in the 40s, the lid will likely be closed on Miller Park for the opener.

On deck
•  Tuesday: at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET
•  Wednesday: at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET
•  Thursday: at Reds, 7:10 p.m. ET