Jeff Locke will start tonight for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park, and if Clint Hurdle’s pregame comments to the media are any indication the Pirates are keeping an eye on the young pitcher with help coming to the starting rotation in the form of Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton.
“(Locke) has continued to grow on people as you watch him develop,” Hurdle said. “He’ s even transformed his body. He’s leaner, he’s stronger. The velocity has picked up since we first got him. I remember when he came up in 2011 at the end of the season. What he knew about baseball compared to where he is now — mindful of the game off the mound with a catcher respective to lineups — he’s in a good place. And our guys do know there’s a clock ticking. ”
Hurdle said Morton will pitch tonight for Bradenton with Liriano scheduled to start for Altoona on Saturday.
“Liriano’s just jumped to double-A. He’s going to be extending his pitch count,” he said. “He can be three starts and ready. Charlie could be four and ready.”
Hurdle also said Jeff Karstens was throwing off a mound Thursday afternoon during the media session, but that he had not heard any reports from that workout yet. Jose Contreras will also make the move to Altoona and is expected to see his first action with the Curve on Saturday.
“We believe Morton can still be an impactful guy and we definitely believe Liriano can be an impactful guy so the guys that are here now and have the opportunity to pitch they need to move upon it,” Hurdle said.
With the Braves in town, the Pirates have another opportunity to show how they stack up against a playoff team from last season. Pittsburgh is 4-1 in its last five games — all against playoff teams from last season — and has the challenge of taking on one of the best all-around clubs in baseball so far in the 2013 season this weekend.
“We’re looking forward to playing the Braves,” Hurdle said. “When you play playoff teams you get a better taste, a better feel. You’re going to get to see four-fifths of their starting rotation. It’s big league baseball and it’s going to be good for four days. Right now they’re in a good place because they’ve gotten out of the blocks clean collectively.”
Pittsburgh will face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran tonight with Tim Hudson schedueled to pitch Friday, Paul Maholm taking the mound Saturday and Kris Medlen on the hill for Sunday’s series-finale.
“They don’t have a guy over there we that we can’t beat,” Hurdle said. “That’s kind of the way we look at it.”
Atlanta: (12-2, 1st National League East)
1. B. Upton cf
2. Heyward rf
3. J. Upton lf
4. C. Johnson 1b
5. Uggla 2b
6. Francisco 3b
7. Simmons ss
8. Laird c
9. Teheran p
Pittsburgh (7-7, 3rd National League Central)
1. Marte lf
2. Snider rf
3. McCutchen cf
4. Jones 1b
5. Walker 2b
6. Alvarez 3b
7. Martin c
8. Barmes ss
9. Locke p