Biertempfel: Locke looks to stay aggressive in second half
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
DENVER — Opening Day seems like a million years ago to Jeff Locke.
“I couldn't wait to get my name introduced on Opening Day,” Locke said a few days ago after his most recent start. “I remember texting my buddy about 30 minutes before that game, telling him I was about to be introduced in the major leagues for the first time. Then, I remember last month, being at the All-Star Game. Things happened really fast.”
Don't blink, but it's already the middle of August — the first time Locke has pitched so long and so deep into a big league season. He made cameo appearances in 2011 and '12, a total of 12 games that served as a crash course for this year.
“That was part of the plan, to get Jeff's feet on the ground to get him up and running in a major league career,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
The first half of this season was marvelous. Locke collected eight wins and put up a 2.15 ERA that was one of the best in the league, and was rewarded with an All-Star berth.
Since the break, however, Locke hasn't had the same success. He's yielding more hits and more walks and has won just one of four starts with an ERA of 4.03.
You might be surprised to learn Hurdle doesn't sit in the dugout and cringe with every hit Locke allows. In a way, Hurdle relishes watching the 25-year-old lefty puzzle through the new challenges he faces.
“This is the great part of a season,” Hurdle said. “This is a young man trying to figure some things out as the league counterpunches. Drama comes with it. These are lessons to be learned for him. He's always got to be the predator and the aggressor. We're into August and September, so everybody who gets the ball has got to be throwing aggressive punches.”
Locke will take the mound Sunday at Coors Field for his 23rd start of the season. After getting mechanical and mental tune-ups from pitching coach Ray Searage, Locke expects better results than he's gotten lately.
Usually, pitching coaches stay hands off with their proteges in the midst of a season. But after back-to-back starts that Locke said “haven't been Jeff-like,” he realized he needed to tweak his delivery.
“I've got to get my backside over the rubber better” during the turn at the top of the delivery, Locke explained.
There's more to it than just getting his butt in gear. After Locke gave up three runs over the first three innings Tuesday, Searage chirped at him to speed up his pace and — this is key — attack the batters.
“There were times when I let off the gas a little bit instead of stepping up and saying, ‘Here it comes. Hit it,' ” Locke said. “They're both right, the mechanical fix and the mental issue, too. I need to get it, be aggressive and go.”
This is the start of a crucial stretch for Locke and the Pirates, as they begin their playoff push. There's no safety net. The pitching depth that was there a million years ago in April has been depleted by injuries. The big bat everyone hoped for at the trade deadline never materialized.
“I feel great,” Locke said. “My body feels great. I feel great mentally. I had two of the roughest games I've pitched this season, and we still won them both. Even when I'm not at 100 percent, everyone around me still is. That's comforting, and it's why I know we can go far.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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