Rossi: Locked-in Locke looks chill on mound for Pirates

Rob Rossi
| Thursday, March 3, 2016, 8:18 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla.

In a lot of ways, Jeff Locke looks different.

The most obvious is his new delivery.

Gone is that sideways turn that sometimes turned his release point into the pitching equivalent of a malfunctioning paintball shooter. In his worst moments, Locke's pitches would spray messily — and that's no way to live long when your stuff isn't charbroiled.

So, what's he doing?

Bringing his arms over his head.

So, how's he doing?

“Felt good, really,” Locke said Wednesday.

He said that after the Tigers' traveling squad tagged him four times in the first inning at McKechnie Field.

Know what? Locke looked good.

As the hits happened and the runs scored, Locke looked like a been-here/seen-that veteran on the mound.

He breathed normally, neither shallow nor deep.

He pitched at the proper pace, neither way too fast nor too slow.

He focused where he should, neither on the basepath nor in the dugout.

Locke looked on the mound like he does everywhere else: chill.

That's how the Pirates need Locke to be this season.

Might not make him an All-Star again. Might not make him a lock to finish the season in the rotation.

But heading into a transition season for their rotation, the Pirates need Locke to lock it down as back-end starter.

Would be something sweet if he does.

This guy was once booed off the field — at PNC Park.

This guy had never come to spring training as with a job guaranteed — and he's made 91 starts.

The major league life has sprayed a little on Locke, too. So with a roster spot — actually, with a starting pitcher's roster spot — finally secured, life looks pretty good to Locke this spring.

“I don't know how many major league camps I've gone to,” he said. “Whether it's the first one, when you're just sucking it all in, or the last four, where it's, like, you're competing for your job … it becomes overwhelming.

“We've got rid of some guys, brought some guys in, and I'm sure if they wanted to they could have done more in free agency or in trades. When the organization tells you, ‘We want you. We trust you. We believe in you' and they're give you a shot at it, that feels good.”

That makes sense.

But what does good feel like?

Before answering, Locked grinned in a way that made him look a lot more like the Joker without makeup than the Robin he's been portrayed to be when the Batman (A.J. Burnett) owned the Pirates' clubhouse.

Well, look at that; there's another different look for Locke.

“It feels like I'm not preparing for 42 starts on the season,” he said. “All these ones in spring training aren't so cutthroat.”

The much-ado-about prospects are closing in, as is a second arbitration-eligible season that might not fit into the Pirates' budget.

If not now, maybe it's never for Locke as a Pirate.

He has his new delivery, which mirrors his old one, a new role and the best advice a sidekick has ever been given.

“He would always say, ‘A lot of decisions in this game are made for you, don't lose yourself,' ” Locke said of Burnett's words.

“Be you.”

Would be a good a look for Locke.

Could be that good results would follow.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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