Biertempfel: Locke looks toward postseason run
During the Pirates' pennant chase and run to the National League Division Series last season, Jeff Locke felt more like a tourist than a member of the team.
Locke was a big reason the Pirates returned to the postseason for the first time in 21 years. He went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA in the first half of the season and earned an All-Star berth.
But a lower-back injury ruined the second half of Locke's season as he went 2-6 with a 6.12 ERA after the break. He was not included on the playoff roster.
“It was a different kind of postseason for me,” Locke said. “It was almost like watching it from a fan's standpoint. It felt different. I felt like I won some sort of contest: ‘Be with the Bucs for the next three weeks! Fly on the team plane! Hang out in the clubhouse!' ”
Being able to step on the mound and pitch was not part of the prize. Locke said it is the biggest regret of his career.
“Being here for the playoffs and being involved in it are two different things,” Locke said. “When it was over, I told myself that I never wanted to not be a part of one again.”
A few months ago, things did not look good. Locke strained his right oblique near the end of spring training and opened the season on the disabled list. After he was activated, there was no room for him in the Pirates' starting rotation, so he was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis.
He made a spot start for the Pirates on May 5 but was sent back to Indy after the game.
Locke finally rejoined the rotation in early June. Not including Saturday's late game against the Colorado Rockies, he has gone 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA. Four times this season, Locke has left a game with the lead only to be the victim of a blown save.
As the season enters its final 10 weeks, Locke is looking forward to the chance to contribute to the chase for a playoff berth — a bit of redemption for last year.
And yet ...
With four days to go before the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Pirates are casting about for pitching help. As the only guy in the rotation with a minor league option left, Locke knows he could head back to Indy if the club deals for a starter.
“This is the time of year when things start happening and guys can be on the move,” Locke said. “Last year, we were close to 20 games over .500 at the break. When we didn't do anything at the deadline, people went, ‘What's going on?' but we felt confident going forward. Then, boom, we got (John) Buck, (Marlon) Byrd and (Justin) Morneau. We were all like, ‘Holy smokes! Cool!' ”
Locke can't control what happens at the trade deadline. In fact, he's been openly enthusiastic about the possibility of the Pirates reacquiring his close friend and mentor, right-hander A.J. Burnett.
“If we decide to pursue somebody now, that's awesome,” Locke said. “If we don't, well, sometimes you don't need to mess with things.
“I'm doing everything in my power between starts to stay focused on making sure I'm healthy and strong down the stretch. This time, I want to be there at the end.”