Locke struggles again in Pirates' 7-6 loss to Brewers

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 10:51 p.m.

Jeff Locke sat in the Pirates' dugout and stared straight ahead as Vin Mazzaro took his warm-up pitches Tuesday night.

It was only 4 23 innings into the game against the Milwaukee Brewers, and the left-hander already was done. The Pirates were down five runs, and their lifeless offense to that point wasn't hinting toward a comeback against right-hander Kyle Lohse.

The Pirates came alive, tying the game in the sixth inning and again in the seventh, but Bryan Morris (5-7) gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth and the Pirates lost their third game in a row, 7-6, with 23,801 in attendance at PNC Park.

“You just have to pitch better,” Locke said. “There's no ifs, ands or buts about it, or any way to slice it any way than what I'm doing right now. I just have to pitch better.”

Neil Walker's three-run homer highlighted a four-run fifth inning. Felix Pie hit a pinch-hit, RBI double in the fifth, then stayed in the game and hit an RBI single to tie it in the sixth.

Pedro Alvarez hit his 32nd home run to make it 6-6 in the seventh and recorded his third career four-hit game.

“We were quiet for most of the first half of the game, so it was nice to put up a four-spot,” Walker said. “It was a strange game. Strange. Back and forth, back and forth.”

There was no more coming back, however, after Yuniesky Betancourt hit a one-out double in the eighth and scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Caleb Grindl.

Locke, who went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA in his All-Star first half, hasn't made it through the fifth inning in a month. He hasn't earned a win since July 21 at Cincinnati, and with the Pirates in a battle for a playoff spot, Locke's rotation spot may be in jeopardy.

“You want to make sure you give your team every opportunity to have the best available guys out there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before the game. “This will be a great opportunity (Tuesday night). We'll see how it goes.”

Locke loaded the bases to start the game. He gave up an infield single, a bunt single and walked catcher Jonathan Lucroy on six pitches before Aramis Ramirez hit into a double play and the Brewers went ahead, 1-0.

Locke retired seven of the next eight batters, but Ramirez hit career home run No. 350 in the fourth inning to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.

Locke gave up a leadoff single in the fifth to second baseman Scooter Gennett, then walked Norichika Aoki with one out. Jean Segura struck out, but Lucroy singled to left. Jose Tabata threw home, but Gennett slid around catcher Russell Martin, who missed the swipe tag, and the Brewers took a 3-0 lead.

Ramirez struck again. His shot to left bounced off Tabata's glove and went to the wall, allowing two more runs to score.

Locke allowed five runs and eight hits. He walked two, struck out four and threw 77 pitches (51 strikes).

Before the game, Hurdle said they'd noticed a few things mechanically with Locke, and noted that the left-hander's weight-training routine was thrown off at the break when he started having back problems. They've been trying to recreate that routine, Hurdle said, but the bottom line was that Locke's consistency hasn't been close to what it was in the first half, a sentiment he reiterated after the game.

“He's got as much self-confidence you'd hope a man would have who's going through what he's going through,” Hurdle said. “There are times when it's hard to be confident. Jeff knows what's at stake. He's as glued to this team as anybody. He doesn't want to go out there unless he's the best option.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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