Both Chris Leroux and Jeff Locke could fill a role with the Pirates to some capacity in the near future. While the Major League club’s pitching staff had an impressive first half to the season, the second half has seen their shares of ups and downs. With the long stretch of games with no days off and no longer a long man in the ‘pen, Leroux and/or Locke could be promoted to Pittsburgh at some point to help the big league club.
Leroux started the season on the disabled list after suffering a strained right pectoral muscle during a spring training exhibition game in Philadelphia. Over 11.1 innings pitched with Triple-A Indianapolis during his rehab stint, Leroux posted a 3.97 ERA with five walks and eight strikeouts. With already a solid bullpen, the club decided to designate him for assignment, and outrighted him to Triple-A after he cleared waivers.
Leroux made 14 appearances in relief before he was called upon to spot start for Indy after the club dealt away left-hander Rudy Owens. The right-hander tossed five scoreless frames, and has remained in the rotation since.
“It was up to me when I got that first opportunity to prove to them that I could handle it and succeed,” Leroux said. “I knew I could do it, and I know [Triple-A Manager] Dean Treanor knew I could do it. But I had some work to do to prove to the Pirates that I could do it.”
The right-hander has gone on to make two more starts, including a one-hit seven inning gem on Monday night, not giving up a walk while striking out five. Leroux was efficient, needing just 75 pitches, 51 strikes over his seven scoreless frames. He’s allowed just two earned runs over 18.0 innings since moving into the rotation.
“Leroux was stretched out [Monday] night, had a performance similar to [Erik] Bedard’s on a different stage,” Hurdle said. “We’re encouraged by all the progress.”
“I’m feeling way better these days in terms of controlling my pitches and my mechanics than I did last month when I was rehabbing and ultimately got DFA’d,” Leroux said. “That was technically my spring training and [I knew] eventually I would get back to my old self like I have here in the last month. I’m just glad I was given the opportunity to start here in Indy. And if the opportunity arises in Pittsburgh to start, then I’ll have to prove to people that I can do it there just like I have here. If they want me back in the bullpen up there, I would love that too. Anything to get back to the bigs.”
Getting back to the majors for the first time since last season could be in the near future. Since the Pirates traded away Brad Lincoln at the trade deadline, the bullpen has lost their versatile arm in relief. Lincoln served in multiple inning relief, late innings, and even made occasional spot starts. Kevin Correia served in that role once, but is expected to make a spot start on Wednesday.
“We talked about Chris Leroux,” Hurdle said. “He has been moved into the starting rotation to get stretched out.”
Several weeks ago, Hurdle mentioned that left-hander Jeff Locke was also being considered for some spot start opportunities in the Majors. The club then acquired lefty Wandy Rodriguez from Houston, pushing starter Correia into the bullpen. Correia is slated to spot start for the Pirates on Wednesday, but Locke has put up some impressive numbers in Indianapolis worthy of a shot at the big league level. Pittsburgh is currently on a stretch of 20 games without a day off, which doesn’t end until August 23, and could see some more opportunities to keep the starting five fresh during the final stretch of the season.
“[Leroux] was a name that we considered. Locke is still in play,” Hurdle said. “Those two guys are still making their starts.”
Locke made his Major League debut with Pittsburgh in September last year where he made four starts and posted a 6.84 ERA. He made some adjustments during spring training, incorporating a Ted Lilly style turn to his delivery, and the results have been impressive.
The 24-year-old has posted a 2.66 ERA over 21 starts with Triple-A. He’s walked just 38 batters while striking out 113 over 125.0 frames. He’s had an even better month of August, posting just a 2.12 ERA over five starts proving that he’s ready for the next step.
“Things are going well,” Locke said. “Trying to stay as consistent as I can and keep maturing as a pitcher.”