Locke's sharp outing, timely hitting help Pirates edge Reds

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, July 21, 2013, 4:42 p.m.

CINCINNATI — Pitcher Jeff Locke literally worked his way out of a hole Sunday to lead the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

After walking back-to-back batters in the fifth inning, Locke realized he was landing in a deep hole — the same landing spot used by Reds starter Homer Bailey. Locke tried to do some quick landscaping on the mound, but the dirt was too soft.

“I kept landing in the hole, hole, hole, every time,” Locke said. “I couldn't get the ball to home plate. I was throwing the ball and thinking, ‘Maybe this one will be a strike.' Finally, I moved over to the far right side (of the rubber).”

The move worked, albeit with one hiccup. Locke fired a wild pitch, which allowed Zack Cozart to score. But that was the only real damage the Reds did against the left-hander.

Locke (9-2) gave up just one hit in six innings, walked four and struck out six. The only hit he allowed was Shin-Soo Choo's infield single — a sharp liner that deflected off Locke's leg — on his first pitch of the game.

Lower back soreness forced Locke to skip a start one week ago and then sit out the All-Star Game. But that injury was not an issue Sunday.

“The back felt great,” Locke. “I proved to myself it was right to stand by the decision we made that it was more important to miss one start and feel good for the rest of the season.”

Bailey (5-9) racked up a career-best 12 strikeouts and was unhittable for one long stretch in the game. But the right-hander faded in the seventh inning when the Pirates came up with two runs.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the second. Garrett Jones jumped on the first pitch and sent it over the right-field wall. It was his 10th homer of the season.

“I've been working on my swing,” said Jones, who went 4 for 9, including a pair of homers, in the three games against the Reds. “I want to be a huge part of this team and help us win. It's the time for that last push to the end of the season, and I'm hungry to get to the playoffs.”

After Locke singled to start the third inning, Bailey retired 13 of the next 14 batters — nine of them on strikeouts. McKenry broke the spell in the seventh with a double off the left-field wall.

Mercer followed with a ground ball, RBI single up the middle. It snapped the Pirates' 0-for-29 skid with runners in scoring position.

Clint Barmes singled to short. Jose Tabata, pinch-hitting for Locke, lined the first pitch into center field. Mercer scored to make it 3-1.

“We beat a guy who was on top of his game for the most part today,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Bailey had it going on, but our hitters kept after it. We needed to get a couple of hits with runners in scoring position.”

The Reds loaded the bases with none out in the eighth against reliever Mark Melancon. When lefty-hitting Joey Votto came to the plate, Hurdle stuck with Melancon.

“He's an incredible hitter,” Melancon said of Votto. “I've faced him a few times, so he knows me and I know him. I just had to concentrate on executing.”

Votto grounded into a double play, scoring Derrick Robinson but also taking the sizzle out of the Reds' rally. Melancon got Brandon Phillips on a grounder to preserve the one-run lead.

“Melancon really showed up big,” Hurdle said. “Votto doesn't pull many balls. But when you've got a good cutter, you can work a ball in and get him to roll a ball over.”

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

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