Jeff Locke looks to rebound career

The story of Jeff Locke from 2013 all-star to minor leaguer in less than a year is well-known. However, Locke is getting an opportunity to rebound, as he will start for the Pirates tonight as they open a series against the Giants.

While Locke’s ERA is over five in his four starts at Indianapolis, some of this is due to tough luck. In his first two starts, Locke allowed all of his runs by way of the long ball. In that time, he struck out 17 hitters in 19 innings, while walking only five.

However, some of the runs are due to the overall contact from the opponents. Locke has allowed 24 hits in those 19 innings at Indianapolis and opposing batters are hitting an even .300 against him. With all of these numbers, Locke is still looking to improve on everything, as his season got off to a slow start due to an injury.

“Everything has been a work in progress,” Locke said. “Everything has felt a lot better every time that I have gone out. I have been able to reach my pitch count. In Bradenton, I threw 81 or 82 pitches. When I came to Indy, I threw another 80-something. My last two outings, I have been throwing in the mid-90s, so I feel like I am good and stretched out, back where I want to be.”

At the same time, Locke said that his body feels like spring training has just ended. Locke missed three weeks of work, as he suffered from an oblique injury in camp.

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington agrees with the assessment and sees the difficulty that Locke had while missing a majority of spring training.

“As we’ve seen with some past guys, when they don’t have spring training, sometimes it takes them a little while to go through spring training, but they’re going through spring training live and they’re going through it at a competitive environment,” Huntington said. “Jeff’s kind of doing that, as we’ve experienced here when you ask a man to go through spring training at the major league level, that’s a tough thing to do. So we’re asking him to go through it at Triple-A, which can be a challenge. He’s stretched out, he’s healthy, he’s had some really good signs, and at the same time, just like most pitchers, he’s made a few mistakes.”

Since coming back from the injury, Locke has put a major emphasis on repeating his delivery every time, getting on the back side, and staying strong over the rubber. He is also working on pitch location.

“There have been times, since I have been here, that my fastball has gotten a bit up,” Locke said. “Thankfully, working on it enough, you can make that correction and get it back down in the zone. Really, aside from that, I feel like I have picked up where I left off in spring training, even through it was early when I went down.”

Locke realizes that throwing in the low 90s means that his misses must be down in the zone. With this emphasis, the only goal is to keep the ball below the belt at almost all cost. With this plan, Locke boasts a 54.6% ground ball ratio in his five minor league starts.

Locke said he has been most pleased with his fastball so far. He said that he feels like he has good control with it and has looked to use the fastball more than his other pitches.

“My off speed stuff has been really reliable so far,” Locke said. “I don’t normally do a whole lot of maintenance work on anything like that. Everything just normally fits pretty good. There are days where I just won’t use it nearly as much, depending on the situation. If they are making early contact on fastballs and I am getting outs, then I won’t have to use it as much.”

Locke is not the only person seeing the marked improvement. Indianapolis pitch coach Tom Filer is seeing it as well.

“I am seeing some really good stuff,” Filer said. “In each game, he has gotten better. I see a marked improvement in each one of his outings. He shows me something a little bit more that makes me think that it’s coming.”

With this improvement, Filer said that he is waiting for one more aspect to come around.

“Right now, I see his fastball command and his changeup command,” Filer said. “Now, if we get that curveball to do what it is supposed to do and be that big weapon that he has had in the past, then he is going to be right there.”

Filer said that he views that the biggest key to Locke’s success is having the three pitch mix. He said that mixing the curveball in makes hitters look for more than just hard and soft, but also incorporates some movement in. With what he has seen with the mix, Filer said that Locke is very close to being the winner that he has been in the past.

Filer said that one of the biggest things with Locke is finding the target when he comes out of his turn, which is a bit more dramatic in his delivery. He said that this allows Locke to improve his command and create angles to the plate. He was also looking for all three pitches to come out of the same slot, rather than moving it on any particular pitch.

In his first start, Locke allowed a lead off home run and then a grand slam later in the outing. Then, in his second start, both against Louisville, Locke allowed back-to-back home runs. Locke was not as concerned with the solo shots, as he understands that they will come.

“As far as hard contact, nobody has really hit the ball hard unless it has gone over the fence,” Locke said. “It’s just one of those things. There was a lot of damage done on one swing. Last week, it was back-to-back home runs. I’m ok with that. You are going to win a lot of games just giving up solo home runs.”

With this in mind, in his final two outings in Indianapolis, Locke did not allow a home run.

Though Locke is seeing marked improvements in several aspects, it is hard to believe that his is ready to compete at the big league level with the consistent success that opposing hitters are compiling. However, the walk numbers being down are certainly a sign that Locke could improve enough to get to that point by the end of the season.

Ryan Palencer

Author: Ryan Palencer

Ryan joined Pirates Prospects as the Indianapolis Triple-A writer in 2014. Prior to joining Pirates Prospects, Ryan covered high school, college and professional sports in the Indianapolis area. For more updates throughout the season, follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpalencer.

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  • johndw28

    Good article Ryan. I want to be optimistic but watched some of him in Indy and just don’t have a great feeling about tonight but hope I’m wrong. I will take glass half full approach and trust that he was getting hit harder in Indy due to trying to work on some things as opposed to just focusing on results.

  • leowalter

    Could he look much worse than what I have witnessed the past couple of Jays/ Pirates games ?

  • johndw28

    I’m looking around for some of that pitching depth we supposedly had a lot of going into this season even sans JT.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Brandon Cumpton? Casey Sadler?

      • johndw28

        Relatively impressed with those guys so far and may be solid #4 or #5 pitchers. But really don’t see any help on the way soon. Kingham doesn’t look close nor Glasnow right now. With the exception of Cole I see a rotation full of guys who are #3, #4 type pitchers at best and I’m including Frankie in that as he seems to have an ERC below 4 about once every couple years. Before last year Morton’s lowest ERC was 4.52 and that is about exactly where he is today. I see a rotation in absolute shambles- just my opinion.

      • stickyweb

        Well Tim, if you’re going to count the guys that fill in nearly flawlessly, then wise ass comments hold a lot less water. Thankfully this is the internet, so before you can blink, there will be another one that doesn’t make any sense.

        • johndw28

          Who made a smart ass comment? My cousin has been telling me all year how much depth we have and I didn’t necessarily disagree at the time… but I look now at a rotation with a lot of problems and I don’t see much help around.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

            When you’re talking about depth, you’re talking about the guys who can fill in for the starters.

            Right now the depth has been better than the Opening Day rotation. So the depth isn’t the issue.

            • johndw28

              Good point- depth has been decent so far. Do you think Pimental still profiles as a starter at some point in future for Bucs?

          • stickyweb

            Sorry if I misread your post John. Tim listed about 11 or 12 deep for starters prior to the year, and a couple of other commenters have said essentially we don’t have any depth since our pitchers aren’t doing well. But you can’t blame it on depth if Frankie, Charlie and Wandy struggle. That’s a whole other conversation.

          • johndw28

            No offense, just hoping this starting pitching comes around soon.

            • stickyweb

              Amen to that, then we can all be in a better mood as we wait for Polanco.

  • michaelbro8

    Unfortunately I personally don’t have much hope for Locke. There is confidence; and then there is false confidence. I know Locke believes he is an all star caliber pitcher. But even he admits that he has a below-average curve ball. So once the league figured out how he was attacking them , working the edges, mostly a bit out of the zone, they simply started waiting until he had to throw a strike and jumped all over it. All of a sudden he’s no longer effective. If he doesn’t possess a good enough curve to use early in the count, he probably can’t succeed. I hope he succeeds for the Bucs, but am not optimistic. Will be watching today’s outing closely.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Most decent pitchers can develop a decent third pitch. No reason why Locke can’t improve his curveball to at least average, or develop a slider. He’s a lefty, its natural