The month of August was a challenging one for Jeff Locke, to say the least. He finished winless in the month, and with a 8.02 ERA.
In fact, the entire second half of 2013 had been the polar opposite for the Pirates’ lefty after he earned an All-Star nod in the season’s first half. Thursday, Locke looked like that pitcher once again when he pitched through seven innings for the first time in a long time, and allowed just one run on three hits and a walk while he struck out five Cubs.
“You take that video tape and you throw it back in the first half, it meshes right in,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was very good to see.”
It was good to see for not only Hurdle, but also Locke’s teammates whose faith in the 25-year-old never wavered despite a stretch of adversity that was about as challenging as possible. And it’s a start that gave Locke satisfaction in rewarding that faith.
“I’ve gotten a lot of pats on the back and guys telling me not to change a thing,” Locke said. “That’s why I’m so happy to go out and give these guys a game like I did in the first half because all these games are important from here on out and we need to win as many as we can.”
As Locke rewarded that continued trust, Hurdle saw the first-half version of Locke return over his seven innings. The version that landed Locke in the Big Apple as an All-Star in July.
“Compared to the games before, strike one, the number of hitters retired on three pitches or less, the fact that he walked one and struck out five, he got swing-and-miss stuff on a couple different pitches last night,” Hurdle said. “His ability to get the ball glove-side is critical. He got strikes that set up his soft, that set up his breaking ball.”
Locke was able to execute the aforementioned with a focus he kept simple, just to get back where he was.
“All I wanted to do was get back to the pitching shape I was in before, so the team could look at me to go out and win a game for them,” Locke said. “The one thing that hasn’t gone away is my confidence and it’s because the guys in this clubhouse wouldn’t let it.”
When it came to keeping the faith in Locke, little to nothing ever changed in the mentalities of Hurdle, the Pirates, and Locke himself.
“Nothing’s really changed with me mentally. I still try to go out and be aggressive,” Locke said. “Tonight was an example of everything working out the way you’d like it to”
After a stretch that saw Locke encounter a whole lot of bad luck, Hurdle sees his young starter as better for it. As a player number one, but more importantly as a human being.
“There are sequences of adversity and challenges in this game that I think it does help of you’ve gone through them personally,” Hurdle said. “He was a kid that, when you talked to him, looked at him, and watched him work, there was times to bet on keep pushing him out there and we had the same conversation and it was time to back off and hit the pause button, and then re-plug him in.”
“I think he showed us, again, why it’s important to have communication,” Hurdle said. “Honest, transparent communication about challenging issues because you can find answers, and I believe we have with him.
To be fair, it was only one start against a team that is nowhere near .500 or playoff contention. But it’s an outing that could get Locke rolling as he makes two or three more starts before the playoffs begin.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Hurdle said. “But that in and of itself last night showed us that he has more gas in the tank.”
- Charlie Morton
Morton (7-4, 3.44 ERA) starts tonight against the Cubs, and he will see a lineup featuring six left-handed hitters. Chicago manager Dale Sveum stacked his lineup with lefties to combat Morton’s sinker that comes low and inside against right-handed hitters, as well as to try to take advantage of left-handed batters’ .333/.440/.438 line against Morton this year. That’s in contrast with righties’ line of .249/.284/.327 against Morton.
Here’s Sveum’s thoughts on the matchup with the Bucs’ sinker baller.
“That’s why we have a lot of left-handers in the lineup, to stay away from that sinker down-and-in that he does to right-handers so well. It doesn’t matter what you do, when you have a sinker-baller on the mound no matter what you do, you’re trying to get the ball up and out over the plate so you don’t keep pounding the ball into the ground.”
- Jose Tabata LF
- Neil Walker 2B
- Andrew McCutchen CF
- Justin Morneau 1B
- Pedro Alvarez 3B
- Russell Martin C
- Garrett Jones RF
- Clint Barmes SS
- Charlie Morton P
- Starlin Castro SS
- Luis Valbuena 3B
- Anthony Rizzo 1B
- Dioner Navarro C
- Nate Schierholtz RF
- Ryan Sweeney CF
- Brian Bogusevic LF
- Darwin Barney 2B
- Jake Arrieta P