Locke's stingy starts boost Pirates' rotation
MILWAUKEE — When Jeff Locke exited his April 18 start against the Braves, it appeared the Pirates had yet another question mark in their rotation.
There already were concerns about James McDonald's decreased velocity, and there was a glaring lack of production from the rotation spot occupied by Jonathan Sanchez, who was officially demoted to the bullpen Monday.
Against the Braves, Locke had allowed his third home run of the game, a mammoth Justin Upton homer off a changeup, a shot which rebounded off the left-field rotunda some 430 feet away. He walked two before being pulled. His ERA then — 5.17 — looked much like the mark he had posted last season (5.50) and in 2011 (6.48).
“The last couple of years I've had nothing but tough outings, tough outings and tough outings,” Locke said Monday. “Something had to change.”
And something has changed for the 25-year-old lefty. What has followed that April 18 start for Locke is a run of 13 scoreless innings over two starts at Philadelphia and at St. Louis, dropping his ERA to 2.83.
The efforts have not only strengthened his grasp on a starting rotation spot with rehabbing starters Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton nearly ready to rejoin the club, but his past two outings have also aided a pitching staff that has struggled to produce quality starts.
“The biggest thing I've learned over the past couple of years, especially this year, is I need to still continue to do what I do well even if it plays into their strengths,” Locke said.
“You just have to challenge (hitters). That's something, even earlier on this season, I kind of pitched away from what I do well.”
Locke got away from what he does well, which is commanding his two- and four-seam fastballs, and aggressively attacking the corners of the strike zone. In four minor league stops, Locke averaged fewer than two walks per nine innings.
Against a strong Cardinals club Sunday, Locke walked two and allowed only three hits over seven innings, saving a bullpen that entered second in the league in innings pitched. He has walked four during his 13-inning scoreless streak.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Locke might have been helped by watching another lefty on the staff.
“I think there's been some benefit in watching Wandy (Rodriguez) pitch and going back out there because they are similar in a lot of different ways,” Hurdle said. “The No. 1 thing is he's throwing strikes. He's throwing strike one. He's been ahead in 60 to 65 percent of the counts (his last two starts).”
Locke said perhaps for the first time, he is comfortable on a major league field.
“Now when I take the mound, I truly feel like it's my day,” Locke said. “I'm not here because someone is not. To me, the biggest thing is trusting what you have and going with it.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starter Liriano strikes out 12, leads Pirates to series sweep of Mets
- Pirates notebook: Substance rule a sticky subject
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Marlins, May 25, 2014
- Former pitcher Allie happily adjusting to outfield
- Biertempfel: Despite Marte’s inconsistency, Pirates’ Hurdle keeping faith
- Pirates chase Mets’ Harvey early in rout
- Book details secret to Pirates’ turnaround
- Going the distance no longer part of the game
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Mets, May 24, 2015
- Struggling Pirates SS Mercer finding himself out on infield’s left side
- Pirates’ McCutchen laughs off pay stub leak