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Pirates notebook: Locke still fighting for spot in rotation

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke pitches during a spring training game.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Left-hander Jeff Locke, who is fighting for a spot in the Pirates' rotation, pitched from the stretch and behind in the count more than he wanted against the Orioles but allowed only two runs in 3 13 innings Monday.

“At the end of the day, he was able to walk away and we were still in the game,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Locke struggled with leaving high fastballs over the plate, and the Orioles pounced on them for eight hits including a home run, but the 25-year-old was encouraged by his ability to incorporate more of his pitches into the outing.

“(Monday) was a good day for feeling my pitches out,” he said. “I threw a lot of two-seamers, both sides of the plate, so I'm getting more comfortable with that. My changeup was as good as it's been this spring, and the curveball's coming along well, too, so I'm happy with everything so far.”

Locke, who was the 2012 minor league pitcher of the year after going 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA, is 2-1 with a 4.05 ERA in four starts this spring.

“I think I just have to keep attacking guys at this point,” he said. “When the time comes to bring the team north, they're going to bring the best players that are going to give the team the chance to win every night. I have to just keep going out and be myself and do the things I do well.”

Starling has been sterling

Starling Marte, projected to be the Pirates' leadoff man, started in the top spot again and went 1 for 2. Marte went into the game batting .364 (8 for 22) in his first nine games with three triples, six runs scored, two walks, four strikeouts and three stolen bases.

“I think he has the tools to be a very dynamic leadoff hitter, and you have to love the swing,” Hurdle said. “He's showing also some maturity and a little slower heartbeat when he gets on base now. He's going to be a fun player to watch grow.”

Injury updates

Jeff Karstens (biceps) threw another bullpen session Monday, and his next step will be to pitch two innings in a game at Pirate City. ... Garrett Jones (oblique) increased his activity to include swinging the bat and fielding grounders and said he hopes to be ready to return to game action Thursday.

Time change

The Pirates game against the Washington Nationals on May 4 has been changed from a 7:05 p.m. start to a 4:05 p.m. start and will be televised nationally on FOX. Because of the change, there will no longer be postgame fireworks.

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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