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Starter Locke struggles in Pirates' loss to Padres

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - The Pirates' Marlon Byrd collides with Padres catcher Nick Hundley during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>The Pirates' Marlon Byrd collides with Padres catcher Nick Hundley during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Fans battle for a home run ball hit by the Padres' Jedd Gyorko during the third inning against the Pirates on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Fans battle for a home run ball hit by the Padres' Jedd Gyorko during the third inning against the Pirates on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bats against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bats against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen doubles during the third inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen doubles during the third inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Fans try to rally Pirates past the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Fans try to rally Pirates past the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates left fielder Starling Marte strikes out against the Padres during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates left fielder Starling Marte strikes out against the Padres during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke returns to the mound after giving up a three-run home run to the Padres' Jedd Gyorko during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke returns to the mound after giving up a three-run home run to the Padres' Jedd Gyorko during the third inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - The Padres' Jedd Gyorko celebrates his three-run home run during the third inning against the Pirates on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>The Padres' Jedd Gyorko celebrates his three-run home run during the third inning against the Pirates on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bunts for a base hit against the Padres during the fifth inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bunts for a base hit against the Padres during the fifth inning Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Black and gold Santa pays a visit to the Pirates' game against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Black and gold Santa pays a visit to the Pirates' game against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd doubles in two runs during the third inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd doubles in two runs during the third inning against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - The Padres' Jedd Gyorko dives safely back to first base as Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau applies the tag Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>The Padres' Jedd Gyorko dives safely back to first base as Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau applies the tag Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Fans make their way across Federal Street as game time approaches Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, before the Pirates face the Padres at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Fans make their way across Federal Street as game time approaches Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, before the Pirates face the Padres at PNC Park.

Pirates/MLB Videos

Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
 

Jeff Locke was an All-Star in July, but if the Pirates advance beyond a wild-card game, he seems an unlikely candidate to be part of a playoff rotation.

Locke failed to produce a quality start for the seventh time in eight outings since Aug. 1 in a 5-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, the 12th annual Roberto Clemente Day established by Major League Baseball to honor the Pirates' great.

The loss was costly as the Pirates (87-64) dropped a second consecutive game to the Padres (70-80), a series that was supposed to represent a final favorable stretch of schedule. The Pirates play only five more home games and have six games remaining against the Reds, who won Tuesday and are now only 1 12 games behind the Pirates for second place in the NL Central.

The Pirates have been unable to solve their home woes against the Padres, who improved to 30-10 at PNC Park. And against a Padres team that was 28th in baseball in runs scored, Locke was unable to build upon his best second-half performance, which came in his previous outing.

During a brief end-of-August demotion to Double-A, Locke took a physical break but not a mental one. Locke (10-6, 3.27 ERA) revisited everything from his mechanics to his routine between starts. Locke contends nothing had changed from when he was trailing only Clayton Kershaw in the National League ERA in the first half to now when he is the owner of a 5.98 second-half ERA.

“Everything has been the same,” Locke said. “It's no different than all the others.”

Locke said much of his second-half struggles stem from the problematic fact he is a pitcher without elite stuff, meaning he has to live on the edge of the strike zone. But Locke's foremost problem Tuesday was that he caught too much of the plate. Locke said he struggled with fastball feel, and he left an 89-mph, two-seamer elevated and on the inside portion of the plate in the third. Jedd Gyorko crushed it for a three-run homer, giving the Padres a 3-0 lead.

Locke had success pitching inside to right-handed hitters in the first half but failed to get the pitch inside enough vs. Gyorko.

“There were some challenges establishing his fastball in, which is one of his staples,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Locke allowed too much damage — seven hits and four runs over five innings — as the Pirates' bats were once again quieted by a Padres starter. A night after hard-throwing Andrew Cashner nearly threw a perfect game, soft-tossing Eric Stults allowed just two runs over five innings, and those two runs only scored because Padres right fielder Kyle Blanks slipped while trying to catch a routine Marlon Byrd fly ball in the fourth.

In his first game back, Starling Marte went 1 for 3.

“He let the bat go … no complaints,” Hurdle said. “A good step forward for him.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib

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