Jeff Locke had a bad day.
The left-hander gave up five runs in the first inning to the Cincinnati Reds, putting the Pirates deep in a hole in an important game for their playoff chances.
Jeff Locke has had a bad second half.
Since his last start in July, Locke has a 7.42 ERA in 44.2 innings, including today’s outing. During that time he only made it 6+ innings once. He had a few decent starts, and one dominant outing against the Cubs, but too many bad starts, and two horrible games, with today’s included.
Jeff Locke’s season should be over.
I like Locke. I didn’t think he was as good as his first half, but I don’t think he’s this bad. I was saying that there was some regression due in the first half. Now he’s gone from lucky to unlucky. There is regression to be had with the second half numbers. His first half FIP was 3.80. His second half FIP (before today) was 4.18. Going forward he should be expected to sit around a 4.00 ERA, which is a strong number four starter.
The Pirates just can’t afford to wait for that now. They also don’t have to rely on Locke at this point.
Locke’s next scheduled start is Saturday against the Reds. As I wrote earlier, that is going to be an extremely important series, and one where the Pirates need to be competitive in every game. Starting Locke would be a huge risk, and it’s a huge risk that can be avoided. The Pirates have an off-day on Thursday, which would allow them to move Charlie Morton up from Sunday to Saturday on normal rest. They could also move Gerrit Cole up to Sunday. The end result is that you replace the struggling Locke with the lights out Gerrit Cole in the most important series of the year.
There’s no downside to any of this. The Pirates would still have Francisco Liriano available for a one game Wild Card. Everyone would be going on full rest. They’d also be starting their best pitchers.
But I’m not just talking about the regular season. The Pirates will have to decide on their post-season roster, and I don’t see Locke fitting in. The starting rotation will have Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Morton, and Cole. The bullpen is sure to have Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, and Tony Watson. That leaves at least three more relievers, and maybe four depending on whether the Pirates carry an extra hitter or an extra pitcher.
The candidates for the bullpen are:
At this point it would be easy to pick 3-4 players to put ahead of Locke. Farnsworth has been pitching surprisingly well, and would be a candidate for the post-season roster. Jeanmar Gomez has been a great all-around pitcher this year, and is pretty much a guarantee for the post-season roster. Vin Mazzaro has also done well this season, and has earned his way onto the team as one of the final relievers on the staff. If the Pirates carried an extra reliever, guys like Jared Hughes or the hard throwing Stolmy Pimentel would be better options than Locke.
You also have to consider that Locke has been working as a starter all year, and this isn’t a good time for him to move to the bullpen for the first time in his career and get used to that role. That adjustment would be difficult under normal circumstances. In the playoffs when Locke has been struggling? Those are far from normal circumstances.
Maybe Locke could get some bullpen work in the next week, although the Pirates have so many options that they wouldn’t need to turn to him. If he doesn’t get an appearance, then his season should be over. He remains a good rotation option for the 2014 season, as his FIP numbers have indicated all season that he can put up quality MLB numbers. But that’s something the Pirates need to focus on during the 2014 season, and not during the most important stretch of the 2013 season.
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