Pirates' Locke won't pitch Sunday, out for All-Star Game
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013, 5:06 p.m.
Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke is more upset about missing his start Sunday than he is about sitting out his first trip to the All-Star Game.
Locke is out due to tightness in his lower back. He first felt it during his last start, then tweaked it again the next day while working out. Right-hander Gerrit Cole will start Sunday's first-half finale against the New York Mets.
“The only thing I'm disappointed about is not being able to go (Sunday),” Locke said. “It's not one of those things where I can't go (Sunday), but I can go in the All-Star Game. I think that would be disrespectful to the team.”
Locke will attend the All-Star festivities in New York and the game Tuesday, but he will be replaced on the National League's active roster. NL manager Bruce Bochy had not named Locke's replacement as of Saturday night, but Pirates setup man Mark Melancon is a likely candidate.
Melancon declined to comment when asked if he had been chosen as a replacement.
The NL team also will need fill-ins for pitchers Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmermann. Media outlets in San Francisco reported Bochy has indicated Giants closer Sergio Romo will be one of the replacements. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano also could be in the mix.
“I don't think I have to lobby for (Melancon and Liriano),” Locke said with a chuckle. “They lobby for themselves by the way they've pitched.”
Locke's back tightened Monday, after he threw seven innings against the Oakland A's. He threw a bullpen session Friday.
“He came in (Saturday) and feels just a little bit off,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “For him to have a physical issue, it couldn't happen at a better time for us to take care of it. We're looking at him pitching a week from (Sunday), and I think he'll be in a good place.”
Locke, 25, said he hasn't had back trouble before.
“It didn't really bother me too much during the game (Monday),” Locke said. “But in the following days, it didn't go away. I don't feel like I'm getting 100 percent extended, and I can't get down 100 percent comfortably. I don't think it's anything except normal tiredness that everybody has this time of year.”
Right field has given the Pirates subpar offensive production all season, so general manager Neal Huntington might look to the Windy City for an upgrade.
Multiple sources said the Pirates are checking into White Sox outfielder Alex Rios and Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Schierholtz, 29, is batting .269 with an .825 OPS. He's hit 11 homers — already exceeding his previous career high of nine, set in 2011 — with 34 RBI. He bats left-handed.
The Cubs are out of the race in the NL Central and are looking to retool their roster and farm system. Schierholtz, who's making $2.25 million this season, has one year of arbitration eligibility left.
A Pirates scout was at Wrigley Field on Saturday when the Cubs played the St. Louis Cardinals.
Through Friday, Rios was hitting .278 with a .775 OPS. In 87 games with the White Sox, Rios, a righty batter, has collected 11 home runs and 40 RBI.
Rios, 32, will make $12.5 million in 2014, the final season of his seven-year, $69.84 million deal. There is a $13.5 million team option for 2015.
ESPN analyst Jim Bowden speculated the Pirates should consider offering two prospects — right-hander Nick Kingham and infielder Gregory Polanco — and Jordy Mercer for Rios and White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
It would be extremely difficult to pry Polanco from the Pirates, whose farm system lacks impact position players. However, Kingham is an intriguing possibility for either Rios or Schierholtz, as the Pirates are rich with pitching depth.
Kingham, 21, is 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA in six outings with Double-A Altoona. Huntington, who frequently evaluates the Pirates' prospects in person, recently watched the Curve play a series in Akron, Ohio.
Around the horn
Andrew McCutchen's left hand was trampled Friday when he stole second base in the 11th inning. “It's a little sore, but I'm fine,” said McCutchen, who was in the lineup Saturday. ... The Pirates have set their starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break. Liriano (Friday), A.J. Burnett (Saturday) and Locke (Sunday) will pitch against the Cincinnati Reds. Charlie Morton and Cole will start next week in the first two games against the Washington Nationals.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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