Pirates name lefty Locke fifth starter

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:27 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Jeff Locke never got too high or too low during his six spring training outings. That was good enough for the left-hander to clinch the final spot in the Pirates' starting rotation.

Locke was among the survivors Wednesday when the team made its final cuts to set the Opening Day roster. Locke got the No. 5 starting job and will make his season debut April 7 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

Righty Jeanmar Gomez, who is out of minor league options, will be in the bullpen as a long reliever. Kyle McPherson was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.

“We had extremely challenging decisions,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We didn't have clear separation on a number of fronts, but we still made decisions we feel good about.”

Alex Presley, who started in left field on Opening Day last year, and infielder Jordy Mercer were optioned to Indianapolis. Relievers Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid and Vin Mazzaro; catchers Carlos Paulino and Lucas May; and outfielder Felix Pie were reassigned.

Utility infielder Josh Harrison will get the final bench spot if, as expected, Brandon Inge (shoulder) starts the season on the disabled list.

“The determination isn't final, but Brandon is still having some soreness,” Huntington said.

Locke, 25, began last year at Indy and made eight starts for the Pirates (1-3, 5.50 ERA).

This spring, he outdueled McPherson by going 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in six Grapefruit League appearances.

“There's no outing that stood out above the other ones,” Locke said. “There's none that was so bad that it stood out, either. Most of them were pretty consistent. I was able to make adjustments a lot quicker than (last year).”

McPherson put up an 8.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in six spring starts. In 22 innings, he allowed 30 hits, including five homers, and five walks. Clearly stung by his demotion, McPherson left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

“The message we gave to Kyle was to continue to grow and develop,” Huntington said. “He has major league-caliber pitches. It's just the consistency and command that need work. We know he's going to help us, either out of the rotation or bullpen, and probably early this season.”

Cutting Presley and Pie leaves the Pirates without a lefty bat on the bench on days when Garrett Jones and Travis Snider are in the lineup. Huntington left open the possibility that Gaby Sanchez will get more starts at first base, which could push Jones or Snider to the bench.

“It's going to be an ever-evolving process there,” Huntington said. “Ideally, you want a switch-hitter, a left-handed hitter and a right-handed hitter. But you also need five guys who can throw a glove on and go around the field. Our bench has some areas that are lacking, but there are others that are pretty strong.”

Presley and Pie performed well in camp — Presley batted .304 with eight RBI and two steals; Pie hit .318 with two homers and eight RBI. But Jose Tabata is out of options, which gave him an edge to make the team.

“They all did some very good things at various times, and all had some struggles, too,” Huntington said. “If there's not clear separation, something out of their control (such as options) plays into it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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