On a day where Jeff Locke struggled on the mound — a few days after Vance Worley looked outstanding — Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t ready to make a decision on the final spot in the rotation.
“We don’t need to at this point in time,” Hurdle said. “They just got to 67 pitches. Both of them have very good history.”
However, Hurdle did announce his Opening Day starter, along with the rotation order to start the year. For the second year in a row, Francisco Liriano will get the start for the Pirates on Opening Day.
“We just want to put to rest that we’ve had nine different Opening Day pitchers. We just want to settle down and just kick that to the curb,” Hurdle joked as to the reason they selected Liriano. “Frank has earned it in our minds. It’s good when you get a number of people that you need to talk about.”
Hurdle said that Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett were both in the discussion for the Opening Day start as well.
“When Frank has been healthy, he has been a very solid anchor in our rotation,” Hurdle said. “To get him the ball right now, the focus, the intent of Spring Training, I think it’s in a very solid place.”
Liriano will be followed by Cole, who would be lined up to start the home opener on April 13th. A.J. Burnett would follow Cole, with the winner of the Worley/Locke battle fourth, and Charlie Morton fifth. The Worley/Locke positioning was to separate Burnett and Morton.
“Separating A.J. and Charlie with either Locke or Worley in the middle, they’re probably the most like-kind guys that we have,” Hurdle said.
Locke Losing Ground?
You don’t want to base roster decisions on one Spring Training outing, or Spring Training stats in general. But it would be hard to imagine a scenario where Jeff Locke isn’t losing ground to Vance Worley for the fifth starter role. While Hurdle hasn’t named a starter yet, it seems obvious that Worley is the guy. A part of that is due to the Spring Training success, but that only supports the idea that Worley is better, based on the numbers last year, and the career trends.
Locke struggled today, giving up six runs on seven hits in three innings. That followed four shutout innings by Worley on Sunday.
“I thought Jeff went out there intent to get some things accomplished,” Hurdle said. “At times the execution wasn’t what he wanted. The two strike execution in particular. But as far as him moving the ball to both sides of the plate, throwing his changeup, the work was done. We had the pitch count where we wanted it to get.”
Locke also said that he felt he was doing well moving the ball to both sides of the plate. As for the Spring Training battle, he said he is trying not to let it impact his routine.
“I think the best thing you can do is try to keep your routine the same,” Locke said. “Try to be the best Jeff you can be every time you go out, or try to find the reasons for them to say ‘hey, this guy can pitch.’ At the same time, a lot of the times you don’t feel like you have anything to prove, because you know what you can do and you just got to get another opportunity to go out there and do that.”
If Locke doesn’t win the rotation spot, then he’d move to the bullpen, which is a position he hasn’t really done before in the past, outside of a few meaningless games late in the season during the early days of his MLB career.
“Neither one of them have,” Hurdle said of Worley and Locke pitching meaningful games as relievers. “And I think you get to a spot where, they both have history starting, they both have a desire to start. They also both have a desire to be on this ball club and do whatever they’re asked to do and help this team win. I think that helps the transition a lot.”
One interesting quote from Locke gave his thoughts on how the process is usually handled from the decision makers up top.
“For the most part I think they pretty much always know,” Locke said. “Every team kind of knows what they want to do when last season ends. You’ve got to have an idea of what next year’s going to look like.”
That is usually the best approach to take for teams, making a decision on a large body of work, rather than a limited sample of Spring Training games. But with either approach, Worley would look like the better choice over Locke at the moment.
**Hurdle on the success Tony Sanchez is having this Spring: “I would think it would be an interesting concept to carry three catchers. That would be very interesting. I won’t say it’s on the top of my list. I won’t say it’s on the bottom of my list. You’ve got to love the things Tony’s brought to camp this Spring. You’ve got to love the way he’s receiving the ball, blocking the ball, throwing the ball, and swinging the bat.”
The biggest improvement I’ve seen from Sanchez is that he has improved his throwing. He has always been good at blocking and receiving, but has dealt with some serious throwing problems over the last few years. Pete Ellis took a great look at what Sanchez did over the off-season to try and fix those problems. So far the adjustment has gone well, and he threw another base runner out today at Pirate City, with this one trying to steal third on a ball in the dirt.
**Hurdle on how the Pirates entered camp with the perception that the roster looked pretty much set: “We were confident that we had a lot of the right people in place. We also thought that we had a few openings in different spots. But we felt the competition for those spots could get very interesting with the personnel involved. When you looked at the opportunities in the bullpen. When you look at the one rotation spot. We’ve seen Locke and Worley. We’ve seen their history. Both of them are out pitching in the Spring. We’ve seen some of the bench battles, the guys vying for that extra opportunity off the bench, how that might play out. It’s always fun to push men out on to the field, let them play, and watch what they’re able to bring.”
**Charlie Morton threw four innings today at Pirate City in a minor league game. He looked good for the most part, with the exception of one big hit where Josh Bell tripled off the center field wall. Take a look at that hit below, along with Bell showing off some nice speed to get to third base in 12 seconds.