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.

Other Notes

**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.

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67 COMMENTS

  1. IMO, Locke was getting squeezed quite a bit and that does make a difference with him, more so than with most pitchers, instead of getting strikeouts, he was giving extra swings which led to too many hard hit balls, but the plate umpiring was terrible for all the pitchers. I think what ever they were using for pitching speed was kind of off, Holtzcom was around 91 most of the time, I did see a 94 from him once, but no one else was much over 91-92.

    • that’s the real issue for Locke though, that his success is somewhat associated to the ump in a way that others arent as associated. A crappy ump impacts any pitcher, but if Locke gets an ump that isnt calling the edges of the zone his chances go way down. He has to hit the edges, and a tight zone makes his job real tough.

  2. When is this organization going to realize that Jeff Locke will NEVER be a legimate major league starter? The guy has not shown me anything for his entire career to date. Even when he unbelievably made the All-Star team, his performances showed it was a large amount of luck that got him there. He’s got no velocity, his curve ball stinks, and unless he can literally paint corners for an entire outing he gets hit HARD. Even when he’s able to locate the corners, his walks climb dramatically. If he weren’t a lefty he never would have made it out of AA ball.

    • Every team needs Locke type pitchers, a guy that isnt super consistent at times and wont be a stud, but can be solid depth and bring ya 1 WAR on decent years. You basically dislike him because he doesnt overpower guys and relies on hitting spots for success, but that aint a new thing. Imperfect pitcher, but those still have value.

  3. Locke pretty much stated his problem with his tale of two mindsets. It’s my thought that he is a pitch to contact kinda guy, when in his mind he thinks of himself as a strikeout pitcher. When locke pitches like locke he is good, when locke pitches like clayton kershaw he is really,really bad.

  4. “shouldnt base on Spring Training” what should you base it on then, Spring Training is try outs, position battles, dont use April for it

    • What about a player’s career? Or even the full season the year before? Both of those give a much larger sample than a month of Spring Training full of meaningless games.

      • IMO, the games are not meaningless at all, the scores might be, but I think the Pirates see a lot in these games, I know I do.

      • it does, but it also allows a guy like Tony Sanchez to come out and impress and have a shot at a roster spot. Spring Training looks good if you do well, dont worry about it if you do bad, its a catch 22

        • The big change for Sanchez has been his throwing. That’s not really a numbers thing that can be altered by sample sizes. It’s looking at the approach and the skills. He’s hitting as well, but he has shown to be a good hitter in the past. The issue was his defense.

  5. Hoping for a big year from Josh. Last year was Huge. He turned into a top 50-60 Prospect and the #1 rated 1B prospect in baseball according to MLB,com. If he can take another step forward he is going to be in position to help the club next season. I look for him to hit .300+ at AA and have a big power season. Time to start realizing all that talent. Not that he’s been bad, Just needs to take that leap into the top tier of prospects in the game.

  6. By the way- Tim constantly saying how spring stats mean nothing, yet using today’s game as an example of how he may be losing ground to worley is actually quite laughable. For those of you that just saw the box score and didn’t watch the game, Locke pitched perfectly fine. He was squeezed a little , and left the game only having given up the 3 run homer. The rest of the runs were scored with 2 outs in an inherited runner situation when the relief pitcher came in when he hit his pitch count. The reliever was horribly squeezed on a strike 3 which would have ended the inning to robbie grossman, who then walked, followed by a windblown double that cleared the bases when polanco misread it. That’s the story. one bad pitch really, otherwise he looked exactly like he always does, this wasn’t a poor start at all.

    • Pretty sure the entire first paragraph was about how you shouldn’t base this decision on Spring stats. Then the rest was about how Worley has been better than Locke throughout their careers, and this Spring is doing nothing to change the idea that Worley should be the guy.

      But as for the Spring stats, “squeezed a little” and only given up the 3 run homer doesn’t explain why he had twice as many hits as innings.

    • Thats funny, because i have heard from 2 other people that said the exact opposite about how Locke looked after watching the game. Said his velo was upper 80s and barely touching 90 and he labored through innings. So, maybe we can admit we all see different things from 1 outing in ST.

      I’d say Locke cant really have “exactly the way he always looks” days and win that rotation spot at this point. Unless he is banking on the team thinking he isnt useful as a relief option and they will keep both Worley and him not matter what.

      • Locke stunk today, he looked about as bad as his abysmal box score. Brought back bad memories of 2nd half locke. Was not locating his fastball and it was getting crushed

        • From what i have gathered, it seemed he was missing the corners just slightly and thus falling behind…which generally leads to him having to come at hitters and give up hits. A typical Locke type start where his ability to hit the edges of the zone greatly dictates his success.

      • Not at all Luke. That’s where his velocity is most of the time, and he was laboring due to not getting calls on the corners. He wasn’t missing his spots and throwing down the middle, he looked as he does on any given day the last couple years. When he gets calls and is pinpoint he is unhittable, when he can’t hit his spots he gets crushed or walks everyone. this was really right in the middle between those two things

        • Right, which shows why he is largely a frustrating SP. He throws on the corners and relies on the ump. If the ump calls the corners and has a slightly fuller zone, Locke can be effective. If the ump doesnt have a big zone and isnt giving the edges, Locke is going to walk too many guys and work from behind a ton. Locke really has no room for error, and it leads to his issues. Useful back end option, but subject to bad games more than others as he really cant “go after” hitters. Even with Morton you have a guy that can play in the middle of the zone, but down with the great spin he has. Locke truly relies on staying out of the middle as much as possible.

          Worley deserves that spot, Morton likely a better option if healthy. So throw Locke in the pen and let his FB play a bit better thanks to increased velo. Effective long man.

  7. The rotation has me flat out nervous…
    -Can Frank put up 3 good years in a row
    -Can Cole give us 200 IP
    -Can Burnett still pitch effectively
    -Is Worley for real
    -Can Morton stay healthy and avoid “the big inning”
    Remember the rotation was dead last in WAR last season and relied heavily on the BP and offense…..Just trying to play devils advocate with all the optimism this off-season.

    • I am not worried too much performance wise. I am somewhat concerned about the injury bug.

      ESPN lets you look at pitching splits by team for starter versus relief pitcher so I looked at Pirates starting pitching numbers here:

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/stats/pitching/_/name/pit/split/127/pittsburgh-pirates

      The Pirates starters last year ranked 8th in the NL (of 16 teams) in starting pitcher ERA (3.60), 10th in WHIP (1.27), 7th in Wins (55 Wins), and 9th in Ks per 9 innings (7.4). Not sure how they ended up last in WAR behind the Rockies (4.89 ERA, 44 Wins – 65 Losses) and the Diamondbacks (4.44 ERA, 41 Wins – 69 Losses).

      I have no illusions – the Pirates don’t have front line guys to match up against the Dodgers or the Nationals.

      One benefit the Pirates have this year that they didn’t have last year – they have some quality home grown talent ready / near ready to make the jump to the big leagues (Taillon and Kingham both in AAA this year). I believe they are deeper in starting pitching than they were last year (even minus Cumpton).

      • Now that mlb network is around does anyone even get their baseball news from espn anymore? I’m not being critical of you frank or even disputing what you said all I’m saying is espn has become a non-entity as far as baseball is concered. By it’s own choice apparently as espn baseball coverage is minimal.

          • I meant the tv side of things, even though I don’t use espns website much ( bleacher report is better) I agree that it is a one stop shop.

    • We also saw what team was capable of in September when Cole and Liriano were healthy, and Worley was on his game.

      I’d put Liriano and Cole, when healthy, up against any SP combo in division and feel good about it with the offensive talent on this team.

    • Rarely and I mean never does a team go all year with the opening day five. For the first time in recent memory the pirates have depth that is just as or almost as good as the opening day roster. That I think will be the difference in the central this year as I really don’t see another team in the central as deep not even the cards are as deep for the first time in forever. I’ve said it before that this is the year of the bucs.

  8. So a few thoughts. One, I feel like Worley has won the 5th spot already, and it should be more important for Locke to get experience in the relief role. Also, Sanchez has looked very good, so he should get more of an even split with Diaz in AAA, since if Cervelli goes down hes the starter

  9. The 3 catchers thing is interesting.

    Especially if the Pirates want to keep Cervelli a little fresher and healthier. I could see the Pirates designating 2 of the 3 guys as the catchers (starting and back-up) at the beginning of the game (with Stewart always being one of two, since he doesn’t bring much to the table with his bat), and the other of Sanchez/Cervelli becomes a true bench bat for the day.

    • So, in a full week, Cervelli gets 4 starts, Stewart 2, and Sanchez 1.

      And Cervelli gets 2 days where he doesn’t have to worry about catching at all, when he’s the bench bat.

    • With that reasoning you have to ask why is Stewart on the team? He’s essentially the BP catcher getting a start per week.

    • I don’t ever recall seeing a team keep three dedicated catchers on a 25 man roster. Normally the third catcher is a utility type guy capable of playing a couple different positions.

      Projected starters / backups
      1B Alvarez / Hart
      2B Walker
      3B Harrison
      SS Mercer
      C Cervelli
      OF Marte
      OF McCutchen
      OF Polanco
      Bench
      IF Kang
      IF Rodriguez
      IF / OF Lambo
      C Stewart

      Projected pitchers
      SP Liriano
      SP Cole
      SP Morton
      SP Burnett
      SP Worley / Locke
      RP Melancon
      RP Wilson
      RP Hughes
      RP Worley / Locke
      RP Holdzkom
      RP Pimentel
      RP LaFromboise

      That is 25 (13 position players, 12 pitchers). Does LaFromboise / Pimentel get bumped if you go with 3 catchers? Do you trust Hart’s knees enough to put him in right field, Cervelli / Stewart catching, and Tony Sanchez manning first base?

        • Of Bastardo, Liz, Pimentel, and LaFromboise – who stays and who goes? I don’t know – haven’t seen enough of them. Holdzkom got touched up a little today, and I am not even sure that his spot is guaranteed.

          • Holdzkom has options he will go down, Liz will make it because he will serve as the “swing man” instead of locke and throws 97, stolmy will be the mop, Bastardo is a lock

      • And Watson and Bastardo too. No Wilson since he was traded for Cervelli. Also Caminero needs thrown in the mix for a spot also.

        • Meant Watson instead of Wilson. Corrected now. I am presuming that a spot in the bullpen is Holdzkom’s to lose. Not sure who of Bastardo, Liz, Pimentel, and LaFramboise has the inside track on the last two (one?) bullpen spots.

          • I’d say Bastardo and Liz are both locks for a bullpen spot. Also I think Hughes goes back to AAA since he has an option left as does holdzkom.

            • I could understand if Holdzkom started the season in AAA. Hughes would be a head scratcher – 1.96 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 64 innings last year puts him in my mind as a lock for a spot.

          • If you assume they dont care for retaining assets over putting the best 25 on the field, yeah its likely Holdz to lose. But if recent history indicates anything, they may throw Holdz and LaFramboise in AAA since Pimentel has no options and Liz and Bastardo are likely locks thanks to ML deals.

  10. Worley has already pitched so well the past 3 weeks that Locke wouldn’t be able to catch up to him even if he pitched a no-hitter right now.
    Besides, Worley shouldn’t even have to battle Locke after how well he pitched last year. He was one of their best starters, far from being “the fifth starter”.

    It just seems unfair to Worley, but give him credit, he’s been very mature concerning it when asked about it in interviews. But I’m sure he knows darn well that he deserves to be in the rotation after his excellent 2014 season.

    I’m hoping that one of the teams who’ve been hit hard by pitching injuries will offer up a good prospect or two for Locke at this point. It’s great to have a decent lefty like Locke waiting in the wings, but with all the good young minor league starters they have who will soon be major-league ready, if they get a truly good offer they should go for it.

    • Locke is the #1 option for SP depth. There’s no way any team will make an offer for him which is remotely close to that valuable for this year’s team. And I can guarantee you any trades made this time of year by Pirates will be made with that in mind.

      For this reason, Locke will not be traded anytime soon.

      • Scott: I hear you, but if he has no options left, would you recommend him as a reliever added to an already plentiful and efficient bullpen? If so, that means getting rid of one of the more qualified relievers or keeping 13 pitchers and thereby weakening the bench by sending Lombardozzi, Decker, and Lambo back to AAA. Am I missing something?

        • I’m of the opinion the Pirates will do what’s necessary to keep as many assets as they can, even at expense of starting season with best 25 man roster.

          • I have always favored starting the season with 13 pitchers simply because SP’s are only used for about 6 innings max in the first month or two. That puts a lot of pressure on a 7 member bullpen even if everything is going well. Lambo and Decker have options remaining.

            • Now that’s a good point. The only counter I would make is relievers are fresh at the beginning of the year, so they should be good to throw a few extra innings in April. Of course, those innings add up and may be reason for concern come September.

            • I see your point N Cap, but I think it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

              Pirates clearly are going to have Polanco be the RF for the forseeable future. Keeping Snider as a 4th OF has value, but it’s negligible compared to what Lambo provides in the same role according to Zips. Furthermore, trading Snider at what is likely his peak brought back 2 legit potential LH rotation pieces.

              And lastly, Locke is a proven (somewhat) MLB SP. With injury concerns, no contender would trade this type player for a prospect(s) at the start of season. SP who have had success are generally hoarded not traded.

        • Once Locke is moved to the bullpen he will not be starting depth anymore. They would have to stretch him back out. I would rather see Hughes or Holdzkom in the pen than Locke. He is a serviceable starter and would probably bring back something decent in a trade.

          • Not perfectly true, because he will be stretched out out of ST, so he could throw 4-6 in a case of need for around a month, possibly more if they have him throwing side sessions when not in games to stay as stretched out as possible. They could keep Locke ready to start for awhile, though the longer he goes the less ready he is to go 6.

            • if he is throwing side sessions in between throwing out of the bullpen when do you think he will have time to visit Dr. Andrews?

              • Its not that uncommon to have a guy try to stay stretched out while being in relief so they can be an effective long man. He throws in a game once a week, and operates his off days like a starter would.

      • Except that Locke is a shitty option. He gets hit a lot, and hit HARD. You are basically guaranteeing a loss at this point if you put him on the mound and can’t get a minimum of 6-7 runs in a game. Just trade the kid. The Pirates are trying to contend for a pennant, and having a pitcher like Locke in your rotation will not get you there. I’d rather have one of the AAA guys over Locke any day of the week.

        • He’s a serviceable #5 SP for a playoff contender. Inconsistent, but capable of giving a team a chance to win most nights.

          The Pitcher you described is Jonathan Sanchez.

    • 16 of the 30 teams needed a 6th starter before the end of April last year, including most of the NL playoff teams (LA, SF, PIT, STL). What looks like a 5th wheel on St. Patrick’s Day could be the emergency spare a month from now – for all we know, the Pirates rotation could be hit hard by injuries. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before – Frankie and Chuck have long histories, and Cole had 2 DL stints of his own last year.

      Locke isn’t going anywhere until June, or whenever two of Kingham, Sampson and Taillon look sufficiently ready to handle major league hitters.

      As for the return he could get, I was ready to say “not much,” but then I’m reminded that somehow the Reds turned a 33-going on 34-year-old Alfredo Simon into a starting-ish SS and a promising, if control-challenged, A-ball thrower. So you never know.

  11. How can Worley not be well ahead of Locke and others? He was very good in 2014, and has been very good in Spring Training. Better than Locke in 2014 and better so far in ST, so even though ST should not be the full reason, it makes sense in this case. And, I would rather see the Pirates talk trading Locke – I think he is out of options, and can he be a legit reliever?

    Love to read anything positive about a prospect like Bell – how has his defense been at 1B?

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