Jeff Locke Shines But Reds Win 2-1 in 13 Innings

Having secured its prey, the black snake squeezes it to death before eating it. The body is coiled around the prey, tightening until respiration stops and suffocation occurs. — Encyclopedia Britannica

Jeff Locke's ground-ball rate is 6th in the NL.

Jeff Locke’s ground-ball rate is 6th in the NL.

Jeff Locke is a black snake. You watched him on the mound Wednesday night in the Pirates’ 2-1 loss at Cincinnati. He pitched seven scoreless innings despite allowing runners into scoring position in three of the first four frames. He also retired 10 of his last 11 hitters to finish strongly and hand off the Pirates’ one-run lead to the bullpen.

Perhaps most impressively, Locke held the destructive 2-through-5 hitters of the Reds’ lineup 1-for-12 on the evening. All four batters have posted above-league-average numbers this season, but the Pirates’ young lefty kept them all but silent.

The Bucs could not close the deal for him, though, and a diamond-cutter up the middle by Brandon Phillips off Vin Mazzaro gave Cincinnati an important walkoff win in the 13th.

Locke did not receive any help from his offense. The Pirates’ lineup went 0-for-8 with men in scoring position, stranding 14 baserunners while scoring only one. That one only arrived because Starling Marte was able to speed to third base for his 5th triple and Russell Martin ricocheted a comebacker off pitcher Bronson Arroyo to score him. That was all, and Pittsburgh’s league-worst average with runners in scoring position falls to .222 on the season. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker combined to go 0-for-10, and the Bucs hit .196 Wednesday night.

But it takes two, and the Reds’ bullpen pitched seven shutout innings with just three hits allowed. Cincinnati tied the game when Jay Bruce homered to right field off Jason Grilli, the first homer the Pirates’ closer allowed all season.

But let’s get back to my bad Locke/Snake analogy. Locke stranded five baserunners, picked caught one stealing in the 3rd inning and drew a 1st-inning-ending double play. Once again, Locke was not overpowering as he struck out just three Reds hitters and walked three, but he buckled down to get 11 groundouts and 1 flyout and keep Cincinnati off the scoreboard for seven innings. This year, he has held hitters to a .105 average with runners in scoring position.

Locke’s ERA is down to 2.01 on the season, third-best in baseball. Normally, I would maintain that his run-prevention is due to regress in his first full MLB season. Normally, I would say his .231 BABIP and 86% strand rate cannot be maintained over the whole year. Normally, I would point out his ERA the rest of the way will run closer to his current FIP of 3.78 than to 2.01. But I am on Team Locke now and will do no such thing. He is a snake who suffocates his prey.

“I want (Locke) to pitch after pitching four out of the bullpen," Hurdle told Travis Sawchik. (Photo by: David Hague)

“I want (Locke) to pitch after pitching four out of the bullpen,” Hurdle told Travis Sawchik. (Photo by: David Hague)

Okay, time to talk about Clint Hurdle. The Pirates’ manager had a difficult decision to make in the Top 6th with his team leading 1-0. With one out, Arroyo gave up a single and a double, then intentionally walked Jordy Mercer to draw Locke. The option was there to have Alex Presley pinch-hit and pat Locke on the shoulder for a five innings well done. Instead, the pitcher stayed in and grounded into a forceout to shortstop, as did Starling Marte.

The Pirates did not score the rest of the way and only got one baserunner into scoring position. On one hand, you can look back and say Hurdle missed his opportunity to possibly generate multiple runs that have been so hard to come by. On another hand, Locke defended Hurdle by tossing two more shutout innings and aided an overworked bullpen that ended up having to work deep into extra innings. On the third hand, the bullpen is overworked partly because Hurdle removed Charlie Morton with a three-run lead Tuesday night, even though the starter had only thrown 61 pitches. He then used Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon to finish off the game even though the Pirates were up four runs.

On the fourth hand, I never have to write that paragraph if the Bucs could have come through with a base hit just one of the eight times a batter stepped up with a runner on second base or third base. On the fifth hand, a manager’s job is to make optimal decisions that can swing a close game (no pun intended), and Hurdle’s decision may not have been optimal.

My Hindu deity is out of hands. Brandon Cumpton goes tomorrow to try to split this pivotal series.

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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  • skliesen

    Tough loss for sure, but I believe CH was right to let Locke hit in 6th.

    ESPN has a column up suggesting Pirates offer Taillon, Polanco, Sanchez, and unnamed LH prospect for Marlins OF Stanton. What’s your thoughts, James?

    My initial thought was HELL YES! But after giving it even a little thought, I’m on the side of giving this idea a hard pass.

    If I’m NH, no way I give up Taillon and Polanco for an injury prone player. Pirates could be a legit contender with a better than average RF in the lineup this year and they don’t have to give up the farm to get Rios or similar.

  • leadoff

    I think when the Pirates fall back to about 9 or 10 games out, the offense will pick up, none of them can hit consistently under any kind of pressure and they have to do better from the bench than Inge is doing.
    Tough situation for the Pirates, is maturation the problem? is their hitting approach with men on base the problem? I think it is a combination of these two, they show they can hit as long as someone is not on base.

  • Kevin_Young

    I’m still upset today about Hurdle pitching Grilli and Melancon 2 days ago up 4 runs. 1st of all it was dumb. 2nd Grilli blew a save yesterday after pointlessly pitching the day before, and even though i can’t even remotely claim cause and effect here, I WILL ANYWAYS! 3rd, and most importantly neither of them are available today in what is a 2-2 game through 6 innings. Stupidity can linger for quite a while….

  • jon6er

    I still think if we brought up Tony Sanchez and dfa Cr-Inge it would be a major upgrade. Martin can give Pedro a day off a week and you got Sanchez behind the plate and even if you want to catch McKenry, Sanchez offers a better pinch hitting option than Cr-Inge. We even have other career minor league position players who can give you more than Cr-Inge.