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MLB insider: Locke proving unbeatable of late

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke talks to catcher Russell Martin between pitches on the mound at PNC Park.

A couple of odds and ends as we reach the midpoint of the season:

• Left-hander Jeff Locke has not taken a loss in 15 consecutive starts, one of the more mind-boggling stats in a half season that's been full of them. It's the longest such single-season run by a Pirates pitcher since Dock Ellis went 15 games in 1971.

“It just shows the power of positive thinking,” Locke said.

A big part of Locke's success has been his mental approach. The past two seasons, he was easily rattled when he gave up a run or even just a couple of hits in a row. He nibbled. He gave in to batters.

Now it's Locke who takes charge of every at-bat. He's not afraid to pitch inside. And he doesn't crumble if he allows a clutch hit.

Each of Locke's past three starts have gone seven innings.

That gives him five seven-inning outings — four of which have been scoreless.

Locke's goal is to match, even surpass, one of his childhood idols. In 1998, Roger Clemens went 22 straight starts without losing.

His streak carried over the next season before ending at 30 games on June 6, 1999.

“To have a chance to do something like that ... wow, pretty amazing,” Locke said.

• When the schedule gives the Pirates a day off, that's exactly what manager Clint Hurdle wants it to be.

“I actually want (the players) to disengage on the off day,” Hurdle said. “I want them to pull the plug and go away.”

Last season, the Pirates were 8-10 in games after an off day. In the midst of what Trib columnist Dejan Kovacevic has tabbed Epic Collapse II, when the Pirates went from 16 games over .500 to their final tally of four games under, they went 1-6 immediately following no-game days. The collapse was due in part to fatigue, and it's clear those late-season off days didn't do anything to help.

“It was something we gave a lot of thought to, even though there's not much you can orchestrate differently,” Hurdle said. “Last year, we were very bad after off days. We had some conversation about that — not so much that we sat down the players and talked about it. Basically, we came up with a different way to go into the off day, a different way to come back from the off day.”

Hurdle has never shied from putting his team to work, whether it's up-tempo, nonstop workouts in spring training or extra infield and pitcher fielding drills hours before regular-season games. This year, however, he scaled back the off-day routine to include more free time and fewer hacks in the batting cage.

Hurdle also encourages players to get together away from the ballpark.

That happened last week in Seattle, when outfielder Travis Snider invited his mates to a barbecue at his home in Kirkland, Wash.

So far, the results are encouraging. The Pirates are unbeaten in their first nine games after an off day this season.

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

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