Locke settles down, pitches the Pirates to victory over Marlins
The second half of this season was starting to resemble the struggles Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke had last year.
In 2013, Locke went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA and a 1.87 WHIP after the All-Star break. Over his first three second-half starts this year, Locke went 0-2 with a 6.50 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP.
Changing strategy was not an option.
“The game plan for him will always be the same,” manager Clint Hurdle said before Wednesday's game. “He's got to get the ball to his glove side, he's got to use his two-seamer and four-seamer, he's got to throw in the changeup and mix in the breaking ball. The changeup has been more of a go-to pitch this year.”
In other words, it's all about execution. On Wednesday, Locke came through.
After a bit of trouble in the first two innings, Locke clamped down and helped navigate the Pirates past the Miami Marlins, 7-3.
“I was a little out of my groove early on,” Locke said. “It was tough to settle in, but (catcher) Russell (Martin) and I were on the same page. You have to trust in yourself. Walks weren't an issue. I moved the ball in and out, changed speeds and let my defense do the work.”
Locke (3-3) worked seven innings — his longest outing in a month — and allowed three runs on six hits. He walked none and struck out three.
“He's just persistent — stubborn with his confidence,” Hurdle said. “It was as well as he's pitched all year from the end of the third through the seventh. All his pitches were working.”
Putting faith in his changeup, Locke found success on the inner and outer edges of the strike zone.
Christian Yelich chased a changeup for strike three in the fifth. In the sixth, Locke got two more strikeouts, when Casey McGehee watched a fastball and Jeff Baker swung over a change.
The Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Right-hander Tom Koehler (7-9) didn't hold the lead long.
Josh Harrison rolled a double down the third-base line to start the bottom of the first. Gregory Polanco and Martin each drew a full-count walk, loading the bases.
Ike Davis bounced a ground-rule double over the left-field wall.
Davis, who has batted cleanup for the Pirates more often than everyone except Pedro Alvarez this season, was in the right spot at the right time. In his career, Davis is batting .300 (15 for 50) with 41 RBIs with the bases loaded.
“The good thing about bases loaded is you know they can't walk you,” Davis said. “The pitcher has to throw you a strike or a couple of them. If you don't chase early, they've got to throw strikes.”
Martin scored on Travis Snider's groundout. With two outs and Davis at third, Jordy Mercer stroked an opposite-field single to right to make it 4-1.
Yelich trimmed the Pirates' lead with a two-run homer in the second inning. Yelich jumped on an 88 mph fastball and lashed it toward the top row of the right-field seats.
It was only the second homer by Yelich, a left-handed batter, in 182 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
After the flurry of seven runs on eight hits over the first inning and a half, the starting pitchers finally settled in.
Locke retired the last 13 batters he faced.
“You've got to just keep attacking the strike zone and know that every ball they hit won't be a hit or a home run,” Locke said.
After Mercer's RBI single, the Pirates didn't get another hit until Harrison singled to start the fifth. Davis walked and Starling Marte singled in the sixth, but the rally was short-circuited when Snider bounced into a double play.
When the Marlins went to their bullpen in the seventh, the Pirates added on.
It began with Locke dribbling a single up the middle. Locke was set to leave the game but batted for himself because the bench was down to three players with the injuries to Andrew McCutchen (rib) and Neil Walker (lower back).
Harrison singled. Locke was erased on Polanco's fielder's choice grounder for the second out.
Martin lined a run-scoring single into center, and Gaby Sanchez delivered a two-run, pinch-hit double.