Pirates notebook: Confidence helps Locke display All-Star stuff
CHICAGO — Jeff Locke didn't have to do much to improve on his major league wins total this season.
He had only one heading in.
That lone victory came on his last start of 2012, and the Pirates' third-to-last game of the season, a 2-1 win in which he gave up a run and two hits, walked five and struck out six in six innings. It was his 10th major-league start and brought his record to 1-6.
From there, it was a clear shot to the 2013 All-Star Game, right?
“I'd call you a liar,” Locke said when asked what his reaction would have been if told prior to the season he would be selected for the All-Star Game.
Locke will put a personal eight-game winning streak on the line when he pitches Monday against Oakland, which has the second-best record in the American League at 52-37.
The left-hander has lost just once this season — three months ago — in his first start and the Pirates' sixth game of the season April 7 at Los Angeles.
“Regardless of the All-Star Game, the confidence level is something different that I didn't have before, a little bit of an edge out there on the mound, trusting that you're here for a reason,” Locke said. “I fought tough to get on this team, and I'm still going to keep pitching like I'm fighting to be on this team because that's what's working right now.
“I just want to be the same Jeff every day and just try to carry myself the right way.”
Walker still sore
Second baseman Neil Walker didn't play Sunday because of lingering soreness in his right side.
Walker felt the injury for the first time during Saturday's game, although he said the pain didn't start from anything in particular.
He was replaced in the fifth inning Saturday by Brandon Inge, who started at second Sunday.
“I was able to do some stuff in the field, but I was a little worried about swinging,” Walker said.
Walker was icing his side and getting treatment Sunday and said he would get an MRI and be re-evaluated by team doctors Monday in Pittsburgh.
Soak it in
Andrew McCutchen will make his third consecutive appearance in the All-Star Game on July 16, which means he will get to show newcomers Locke, Jason Grilli and Pedro Alvarez the ropes.
“Overall, it is fun, but I really wasn't able my first year to soak it in because I was just so overwhelmed by everything,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is great, this is great,' and then, it was over, and I was like, ‘Man, I didn't even really get to experience it.'
“That would be my little advice, just soak every part in from when you first arrive at the airport and they have your name tag to the end. You just have to soak it all in because you blink your eyes, and it's going to be over.”
Left fielder Starling Marte extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games Sunday.
He's 22 for 60 during the stretch with five doubles, two triples, three home runs, six RBI and 13 runs scored.
This is Marte's second hitting streak of at least 10 games this season.
Before the game, the Pirates optioned right-hander Ryan Reid to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room for A.J. Burnett on the 25-man active roster.