Pirates Shut Out Phillies 2-0 as Pitching Continues to Thrive

If Jeff Locke was pitching to save his spot in the rotation… he is well on his way.

Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke kept the Phillies scoreless for six innings.

Locke put together the best start of his brief Major League career Tuesday night to tack on another outing to a strong run of Pirates’ pitching. After some early hiccups, Locke recorded outs on the last eight hitters he faced, then turned it over to the consistently stellar bullpen for the three final innings to close out a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

The young lefty normally works as a groundball pitcher painting the corners, but not against the Phillies. Locke generated a career-high 13 swings-and-misses over six innings. He gave up only two hits, walked two and hit one batter.

Such a terrific outing did not start out so well. Locke gave up walks in each of the first two innings and allowed runners on second and third in both frames. He escaped from both innings unscathed. In the 4th, he gave up a leadoff triple to John Mayberry and hit next batter Domonic Brown. Two ground balls cleaned it up though, as new third baseman Brandon Inge threw out Mayberry at home and former Pirate Erik Kratz grounded into an inning-ending double play. Locke finished off his outing with 1-2-3 innings in the 5th and 6th.

Locke got his whiffs with nine fastballs, two curveballs and two changeups. His four-seam fastball had great speed (sitting 90 mph early on and going as high as 92) and showed good life, even getting Ryan Howard to swing and miss three straight times.

The performance dropped his season ERA to 3.74 and provided an all-too-rare six innings of work from the starting rotation. Locke certainly looks to be in a better place in limiting hard-hit balls, allowing just five line drives in his last two starts after giving up eight in his 2013 debut in Los Angeles. With Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano getting closer to a Big League return, every start counts. Locke just had a very good one.

Brandon Inge Makes an Impact in Debut

To be frank, there are problems with a Major League roster that contains three demonstrably weak hitters in Clint Barmes, John McDonald and Brandon Inge. Perhaps their fielding skills can overcome lack of hitting when, say, a groundball pitcher like Morton makes a start. But it is worrisome to have 40 percent of the Pirates’ bench occupied by guys who have not posted a .300 on-base percentage since 2010.

All that said, run production has come from stranger sources than Inge, and he made his contribution Tuesday night. After Neil Walker led off the 4th with a single off starter Cole Hamels, Inge stepped up and smacked an RBI double to right-center to put the Pirates ahead 1-0. Gaby Sanchez homered to right off Hamels to give the Bucs all the offense they would need.

There’s not much there with Inge as a hitter. He will homer a few times if you give him enough at-bats, but he will make way too many outs in the meantime. He has some use to the Pirates to give Pedro Alvarez nights off against pitchers like Cole Hamels, because he can still play third and hit lefties moderately well. Plus Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy thinks he can loosen up the clubhouse to a positive effect, and McCarthy has a smart enough analytical mind to make such claims without it being brushed off as old-guard baseball BS.

If the Pirates want to compete, they can’t do it with Inge¬†and McDonald occupying the similar roles without much of a bat. Pick one. I would probably pick Inge.

Relievers Keep it Going

Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli (for his 8th save) wrapped up the victory with a neat little bow, with Melancon the only one getting into any danger with two baserunners. The bullpen’s season ERA is down to 1.98 (2nd in the NL), WHIP is down to 1.07 (3rd in the NL) and they have held hitters to an MLB-best .182 batting average. Put it all together, and it was the third shutout from the Pirates’ pitching staff this week after getting only two shutouts in the previous 45 games.

Some credit for the success must be given to the fielders, as Bucs Dugout’s David Manel pointed out the Pirates lead all of baseball at turning balls in play into outs. The specter of fatigue still remains, as Pirates’ relievers have thrown the most innings of any NL bullpens, and will remain until the Bucs can get more innings out of their starters. Still, Melancon (1 run, 6 hits, 11 strikeouts in 12 innings) and Grilli (0 runs, 3 hits, 15 strikeouts in 9 innings) continue to nail down the 8th and 9th innings, and only Melancon’s pitch counts have been worrisome so far.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • leadoff

    To be frank, there are problems with a Major League roster that contains three demonstrably weak hitters in Clint Barmes, John McDonald and Brandon Inge.
    ________________________________________________________
    Values of these 3 will never show up in the stats, you have to know baseball to understand their values and there are teams with hitters with low batting averages on them, in fact most of them.
    The bench is not constructed with just 3 players, everyone that is not playing is a bench player on this team.
    No mention of McDonald and Barmes figuring prominently in a win over the weekend against the Braves, just they can’t hit. It is getting to be a broken record about these guys not hitting.
    Orpik and Murry play defense for the Pens, they rarely score a point, they have players that are expected to provide offense, everyone understands they are there for defense and accepts it. Barmes, McDonald, Martin are playing defensive positions, hitting is a bonus, defense is what they are here for. It would appear from the reading that I do that most can’t figure this out. You can’t, have good pitching without solid defense, it won’t happen.
    The Pirates are one if not the best teams in baseball up the middle. Ask their pitchers if they want a different SS than they have!

    • James Santelli

      Obviously you can’t prevent runs without solid defense, that’s why I wrote up there that the Pirates have been the best in baseball at turning balls in play into outs. I don’t have a problem with having good defenders. Every team needs them of course. But I think I did not make my point clear. I’m fine with having a weak-hitting, good defensive player like Barmes. His value is clear. Same with Inge. But when we are getting to three players with the same set of skills and flaws, I have to point out that’s poor roster construction.
      – John McDonald does not provide anything to this club that differs from what Barmes or Inge provide. That doesn’t make McDonald a bad guy or a bad baseball player, just a bad fit for the team as currently designed. Barmes can handle all nine innings at short, Inge can hit some lefties and be a defensive replacement for Alvarez. What can McDonald do? Spell Walker and Barmes up the middle? He’s 1-for-15 and three years removed from his last halfway-decent offensive season. He doesn’t provide anything.

  • La Pirate

    I agree, we need solid shortstop play and though I think Mercer is better overall than McDonald it serves no purpose to have him spend all that time on the bench as the 25th guy. If Barmes gets hurt I bet Mercer becomes the starter. I have been very impressed with the catching this year. Martin is such a vast improvement and strength up the middle is crucial. The Pirates are a much better / deeper team on the field this year. The issue will be the rotation. Also, I think its a matter of time that they move Tabata. Presley is a much better 4th outfielder and deserves to be on the 25 man roster.