Jeff Locke was promoted to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to provide the club with a volume of innings if the team needs him. With Correia making the spot start against Arizona, and Jason Grilli deemed unavailable in relief due to pitching on back-to-back nights, the bullpen was short arms.
The left-hander has been a starter his entire career, so Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage both told Locke that they would be careful to pick the spots in which he would be used if needed.
“‘Obviously you’re a starting pitcher, who’s going to the bullpen, we’re going to look for spots for you. Obviously look for a place for you,'” Locke recalled of their conversation. “I’m not a guy that can throw 11, 12 pitches and be ready to go into the game…I’ve got that starter mentality, that starter readiness. And it will have to change when I get down to the pen.”
How long Locke will stay in Pittsburgh is unclear. With Correia starting tonight, he will not be available to pitch again for at least three more days in relief from the bullpen. Locke, who was slated to pitch at Triple-A on Thursday, could stick around for a few days, or Hurdle could decide to re-balance out the roster and call up a position player.
“We’re going to take it a day or two at a time because we can adjust accordingly still with another bullpen pitcher,” Hurdle said. “If the pitching lines up and is in a good place, we could recall another player. Alex [Presley] is down for 10 days. We can’t go get Alex unless there is an injury up here to bring him back sooner than 10 days. We’re just going to ham and egg it as we move forward.”
Locke was recalled in a similar situation earlier in the season when the bullpen was taxed and they needed an extra long man in relief. Locke, however, didn’t get the opportunity to pitch. The left-hander was recalled close to his start day, so by the time he returned to Triple-A, it had been 13 or 14 days off the bump. Locke admitted that it was a little tough to get back into the swing of things, but was able to keep his arm sharp.
But despite not pitching, the lefty gains valuable experience in the bigs that can help him down the stretch.
“We tried to do that in the past a little bit last year with a few of our guys, to get them involved in this atmosphere at this level,” Hurdle said of bringing players up before September. “Get through the third deck, the clubhouse, the media, all the things that are really much different than the environment that they’re coming from. I think he was able to get a big bite of experience out of last year, being up in September, getting the opportunity to pitch. He probably learned a lot from just going through it. I think he’s in a much better place now to compete.”
“I feel like last year, it was definitely to get my feet wet,” Locke said. “It was to see what it was all about. It was an eye opener for sure. It was so much fun. It was definitely a time of my life that I’m never going to forget. Whether I never play another day again, it was definitely the highlight of my baseball career. Just getting to spend the time with these guys up here. Getting to pick their brains.”
“This year, didn’t come back to the big leagues again, so you had a taste and you want to come back. That’s the biggest thing for me — I saw how great it was up here, saw what was going on up here last year. I wanted to get back. That’s how hard you’ll work in Triple-A to get through the day, get through what you’ve got to get through everyday. The workouts, the running, the throwing programs everyday, the relationships with your teammates, the catchers, just getting gritty, getting tough and getting in what you need everyday has been huge for me this year.”
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.
“He’s coming off two really solid outings,” Hurdle said. “The numbers have shown up well for him. It’s been command. He’s just been continuing to find a way to master his craft like all the young pitchers down there. Repeat his delivery, throw strikes with all three pitches, pitch down in the zone, pitch both sides of the plate. That’s what he’s worked on. Those are the areas that he’s improving upon.”
“I really think truthfully the key to the season has been that turn that we talked about in spring training with the delivery,” Locke said. “Just getting to my backside, getting the ball out of my hand. Then my curveball is much better. The changeup is just coming out of my hand better. Location, command has been much better as of late. A little sporadic at times this year, but things have been going really well.”
“Getting a really good relationship with the catchers as well. Eric Fryer has been fantastic when I had him. The upbringing of Tony Sanchez this year has been unbelievable. He’s taken control of the pitching staff. He’s taking control of the team, too as a leaders. It’s good to see that. Someone who hasn’t been up there a whole lot, doesn’t have a lot of Triple-A time. He’s really taking control of the guys.”