Biertempfel: Pirates lefty Locke settles into rotation
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
At the start of the season, Jeff Locke almost seemed like an afterthought in the starting rotation.
Locke won the No. 5 spot in spring training but wasn't especially dazzling. The lefty put up good numbers (3-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) in seven Grapefruit League outings. His competition, righty Kyle McPherson, was awful (0-3, 8.46, 1.57).
In his season debut April 7 against the Dodgers, Locke gave up four runs in six innings and took a loss. After three starts, Locke still was toting a 5.17 ERA. It looked like a sure bet he would be sent packing to Triple-A Indianapolis as soon as Francisco Liriano was ready to come off the disabled list.
Liriano made his second start Thursday. Not only is Locke still here — he will start Sunday against the Houston Astros — he has a grip on the No. 4 spot. The 25-year-old left-hander is arguably one of the top reasons the Pirates have surged into the middle of May.
“Jeff has picked up his game,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Locke has worked at least six innings in four of his past five starts — a boon for the often-overworked bullpen. Since April 23, he's gone 2-0 with three no-decisions and shaved more than two points off his ERA.
“He's been doing the same thing every outing: being consistent and keeping us in the game,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He competes out there.”
Although opponents have racked up a whopping 38 stolen bases against the Pirates this season, they are 0-2 against Locke.
“I'm left-handed, so I can see the guy over at first base, and it's a bit easier,” Locke said. “Don't let them get on base. That works, too.”
One locker stall away, A.J. Burnett laughed. “It's that easy, huh?” Burnett said.
Locke shrugged and smiled. “He was just waiting for me to say something he could make a comment about,” Locke said.
There's a constant stream of good-natured teasing between Burnett and Locke, with the young lefty usually on the receiving end. But their relationship goes deeper. Burnett, 36, has become Locke's sounding board and mentor.
“I always say this and people laugh and joke, but it's a luxury being able to go out there (to pitch) the night after A.J.,” Locke said. “He's been throwing the ball so well this season. It's always encouraging to see what he does, then go out there the next night and try to (match) it. It could be any of these guys, really, but it happens to be him. He's a guy I've spent a lot of time with. I'm fortunate.”
Locke does not have as much zip on his fastball as Burnett, and he'll never be among the league leaders in strikeouts. But you don't have too look hard to see a bit of Burnett in Locke.
They have similar approaches. Burnett uses his curveball an atypically high amount when he's ahead in the count or gets a two-strike count. So does Locke.
Burnett stays cool under pressure and has the veteran's gift of shrugging off the one bad pitch that gets creamed for a two-run homer. Even just a year ago, Locke would allow hiccups to explode into train-wreck innings.
Now he has grit when he pitches. That quality, more than anything else, could be what determines how long and productive his career ends up being.
“This is the same guy who, when he came up (in 2011), all we talked about was the big inning of homers he'd allow in every game,” Hurdle said. “We're not talking about that anymore.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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.
- Top pitching prospect Taillon’s time with Pirates must wait a bit
- Pirates notebook: Martin finding power stroke
- Pirates notebook: Volquez, Morton struggle
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Pirates seek to tap Alvarez’s remaining upside
- Pirates reserve outfielder Dickerson is also at home on soccer pitch
- Stats Corner: McCutchen’s contract extension brings huge cost savings
- Martin would consider extending stay with Pirates
- Pirates notebook: Morton shows off new weapon
- New Pirates pitcher Eppley brings special delivery to team’s staff
- Pirates notebook: Liriano looks to complete consecutive quality seasons