Share This Page

Locke's changeup helps Pirates take down Rays, move past .500 mark

| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 10:24 p.m.
The Pirates' Neil Walker watches sacrifice fly off Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer during the third inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
Pirates starter Jeff Locke delivers during the first inning against the Rays on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Pirates catcher Russell Martin shakes hands with relief pitcher Mark Melancon after closing out the Rays during the ninth inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates at the plate with Ike Davis after hitting a solo home run off of Rays pitcher Brad Boxberger during the eighth inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker gets the out on the Rays' Logan Forsythe at second base after Desmond Jennings grounded into the fielder's choice to end the seventh inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Pirates' Russell Martin hits a home run off Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger during the eighth inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Pirates' Starling Marte is tagged out by Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez while attempting to steal second base during the fifth inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Pirates' Starling Marte (right) is helped to the clubhouse after getting injured attempting to steal second base during the fifth inning against the Rays on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Pirates' Starling Marte is helped to his feet by a trainer and manager Clint Hurdle after getting injured attempting to steal second base during the fifth inning against the Rays on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
The Pirates' Jeff Locke pitches during the first inning against the Rays on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
The Pirates' Jordy Mercer crosses home plate in front of Rays catcher Jose Molina to score on a single by Andrew McCutchen during the third inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
The Pirates' Gregory Polanco steals second base ahead of Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez during the first inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen grounds out to Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist during the first inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Getty Images
The Pirates' Gregory Polanco is called out on runner's interference at first base as the Rays' James Loney during the fifth inning Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke always has loved to throw the changeup.

“It's my favorite pitch,” Locke said. “But it's never really resulted in that much success.”

Until this year, that is. Locke is using his changeup more than ever, and it's tying hitters in knots.

Tuesday, Locke kept the Tampa Bay Rays off balance by mixing his fastball and changeup effectively. The Pirates scored three runs in the third inning and held on for a 6-5 victory.

In the fifth inning, outfielder Starling Marte left the game after his face collided with second baseman Sean Rodriguez's leg on a steal attempt. Marte seemed woozy as he was helped off the field by the athletic trainer.

The Pirates said Marte had concussion-like symptoms and was taken to a nearby hospital for a CT scan. There was no immediate word on whether he'll be placed on the seven-day disabled list for concussions.

Locke (1-1) went 7 13 innings, allowed three runs on eight hits, walked two and struck out three. He left the game after serving up Evan Longoria's two-run homer on a 1-1 fastball.

Using the same circle-change grip he has had for years, Locke is throwing the changeup more often this season — about 25 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs. Last year, 16 percent of his pitches were changes.

“There is a slight tick up in usage, but the productivity is what's really playing,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's speed-dialing the changeup — fastball in, changeup in. He's been able to throw the two-seamer away and down, and he's thrown the changeup off that. The fastball-changeup combo has played extremely well.”

There's a simple reason for that.

“It's been effective because I've been able to get ahead (in the count),” Locke said. “When guys are trying to protect the plate and stay ready for the fastball, I come at them with the changeup. It comes out of my hand as a strike, then it kind of goes down. I see so many hitters go, ‘Aw, what am I swinging at?' Out of the hand, it looks so good.”

Early in the game, changeups helped Locke get a few key outs. In the first inning, he used a change to get ahead 0-2 on Brandon Guyer, who took a fastball for a strikeout.

Rodriguez led off the third, and Locke set him up with a fastball and a curve for strikes. Rodriguez struck out swinging at an 80 mph changeup.

With two outs in the third, the Rays got back-to-back hits. Locke threw six pitches, including four changeups, to Ben Zobrist, who grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Gregory Polanco walked, then stole second and went to third on catcher Jose Molina's throwing error. Polanco scored on Andrew McCutchen's grounder.

Pedro Alvarez walked, and Jordy Mercer singled to start the third. Both runners advanced on Polanco's sacrifice bunt.

Marte stroked a first-pitch slider from right-hander Chris Archer (4-5) into right field for an RBI single. McCutchen's single scored Mercer. Neil Walker's sacrifice fly make it 4-0.

With two outs in the sixth, Ike Davis doubled to left-center. He scored on Josh Harrison's single.

Russell Martin hit a solo homer in the eighth.

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

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.