Jeff Locke’s Second-Half Struggles Continued in Loss to Giants

PITTSBURGH — Jeff Locke allowed a pair of two-run home runs early, and the Pirates’ offense could not fully recover from the six runs that Locke allowed in his first four innings of work tonight, as Madison Bumgarner and the Giants defeated the Pirates 6-4.

The Giants were aggressive at the plate, and never allowed Locke to settle in. Giants’ Nori Aoki wasted little time leading off the game, pouncing on Locke’s second pitch and lining it into left field for a base hit. Locke then walked Matt Duffy on four-pitches, and after a groundout advanced the runners, Buster Posey hit a sacrifice fly to left, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. It looked as if Locke was going to be able to limit the damage as he got ahead 1-2 on Pirate-killer Marlon Byrd, but he hung a change-up, and Byrd crushed the ball into the left-field bleachers to give the Giants a 3-0 lead.

Locke continued to make mistakes in the second inning. Gregor Blanco slapped a double down the left-field line to lead-off the inning, and then Madison Bumgarner crushed a Locke center-cut fastball deep into the left-field seats, giving the Giants a daunting 5-1 lead, especially with the Giants’ ace on the mound.

“Too many mistakes over the plate,” Hurdle said as he assessed Locke’s night after tonight’s game. “Fastball location, breaking balls didn’t find their spots. He was getting first pitch strikes, 20 out of 26. He did retire 15 hitters in three pitches or less, but there were just too many mistakes over the plate early. They capitalized. They didn’t miss them.”

Once again, Locke was unable to pitch past the fifth inning, and gave up a career-high eleven hits, including five extra-base hits, and six earned runs.

“I never really got into any kind of groove,” Locke said after the game.

Locke has been inconsistent since closing the 1st half of the season in impressive fashion. He has a 5.13 ERA in the second half and has only completed six innings once in his last seven starts. In August, Locke is inducing soft contact at a season-low rate of 17%, and is inducing groundballs at only a 46% rate, also a season-low.

These post-All Star break struggles have become the norm throughout Locke’s career. His inconsistencies have prevented him from becoming anything more than a fifth starter.

** Locke put the Pirates’ offense behind the eight ball early in the game, however the offense was still able to put pressure on Bumgarner. He seemed to be without his best stuff in the first two innings, allowing six base runners in the first two innings. It looked as if the Pirates were going to knock Bumgarner from the game early, but were unable to break through with a big hit and plated just two runs in those first two frames.

The Pirates’ best opportunity came in the second inning, when Starling Marte came to the plate with the bases loaded and only one out. Bumgarner minimized the damage to a single run by inducing two straight groundouts by Marte and Andrew McCutchen.

Bumgarner settled in after that, retiring 14 straight batters, and keeping the Giants in control of the game throughout. The Pirates pulled within two runs and threatened again late in the game, but the rallies were killed by two groundball double plays.

** The Pirates middle-relief combination of Joe Blanton/Antonio Bastardo/Arquimedes Caminero continued to shine tonight, pitching four scoreless innings, striking out six batters and allowing only three base runners.

In the month of August, the trio has combined to pitch 37.2 innings, allowing only two earned runs and striking out 46 batters. These are numbers you’d expect from a stellar back-end of a bullpen, not a middle-relief core. This trio is proving to be a valuable weapon as the season heads towards the stretch run.

** The Pirates will attempt to take the series lead tomorrow, as they face Giants’ RHP Mike Leake. The Pirates have been unable to solve Leake this season, as he’s gone 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three starts against them

The Pirates’ will send Gerrit Cole to the mound and are hoping that he can get back on track. He has a 4.70 ERA in the month of August, and is winless in his last four starts.

  • With all the credit Benedict and Searage get for rehabbing pitchers you’d think they’d spend some time on Locke. Or is he not coachable. If that’s the case AJ should be mentoring his buddy.

  • This is the beauty of that deep bullpen, though. Locke only has to improve a little bit to remain a viable starter for the Bucs. If he concedes 3 runs in 5 innings every start from now on, we’ll win half those games. That’s not even a good start, but we have a good offense with a deep bench, and enough quality bullpen arms to pitch the last four innings.

    If Liz or someone else would be a true upgrade, go for it, but I won’t pull my hair out on Locke starts because we have the roster to compensate for him.

  • Last 8 starts (opp OPS, ERA, FIP):
    Cole: .701 3.91 2.85
    Liriano: .681 3.63 3.05
    Morton: .707 3.83 3.76
    Locke: .767 5.40 4.82

    Looks like Cole and Frankie have been a bit unlucky, Charlie has been what Charlie is and Locke, well… ick, even for a #5.

  • Locke is out of options and I’d assume they don’t want to lose him long term. Worley pitched last night too. Coincidence?

    Hughes has options left. With the way the rest of the bullpen is throwing, I’d send him down early next week, slide Locke to the bullpen and call up Worley to take his next start. Hughes can then come back up on 9/1, correct?

    No benefit to letting Locke start another game this year. None at all.

    • Maybe Locke will develop imaginary tendinitis in his elbow and go to the DL. I really do not want him pitching the rest of this year. We need a better option and they can’t skip his turn until September.

  • Byrd’s home run was off a curve ball down and in. It is baffling the Pirates continue to try to pitch him down and in, he has been crushing those pitches. It might explain why 30% of his home runs are off the Pirates.

    The root of Locke’s problems, outside fastball command which can be an issue for any pitcher, is he is leaving his curve up and it is catching too much of the plate. It isn’t a great pitch to begin with, not great spin rates, but the problems are exacerbated when it he fails to keep it down, .276 AVG .517 SLG in the 2nd half compared to .200 AVG .227 SLG in the 1st half.

    • Like you Andrew, for life of me I can’t understand their plan for Byrd. The capper was his double, which came on almost exactly the same pitch as the HR. And that BP fastball to Bumgarner was inexcusable. We all understand that certain things happen in baseball that are uncontrollable, but at least throw the pitch with conviction.

      • Hopefully we only see him two more games. I’m glad Cinncy traded him only wish it was to the AL.

  • Just a really poor start by Locke. Time to hit the “DL.” Worley with a good start last night. Bring him up now and give him a shot No time to be messing around. Especially with the Cards maybe hitting a rough patch.

    • Vanimal had his shot for two years. Like him in the bullpen though. Give Liz or Volstad a shot. Maybe they can find lightning in a bottle.

      • Yes, Worley had his shot as a SP last year – and he was really good. ERA of 2.81, WHIP of 1.21. FIP of 3.44. No reason not to give him another shot in the rotation.

      • Umm…Worley proved to be much better as a starter than a reliever

        • When? Because this year, Vance Worley was nowhere near the starter that he was the reliever.

          Its 1 year of good play from Worley that makes fans assume he’s a fine SP. He’s likely to be very average as a SP like he was earlier this season.

  • A bad outing by Locke, and the Pirates had a few innings with men on where a hit could have made a big difference. And, Locke needs to be in the AL if that is the best he can do at the plate. 2 on 0 outs, 3-0 count and he cannot get a bunt down that could have made a difference with Bumgarner struggling with his command/control. He looked at 2 strikes and then made a piss-poor attempt to bunt the 3rd strike.

    On the plus side he is dependable starting 24 games already, 6-8, 4.56 are fairly typical No. 5 SP numbers, and you cannot find anything more cost effective since he is being paid the minimum. In Sep we may see a Rotation with 4 SP’s and then a 3/6/9 trio of SP’s teaming up in the 5th start. Regardless, I think his days are numbered if we can find a way to avoid the dreaded TJ epidemic that seems to be attacking our best prospect pitchers.

    • And, if we are looking for a No. 5 guy, Worley and Blanton are experienced and Liz has had some good numbers, but, IMO, the first guy up in Sep should be Chad Kuhl from AA. He throws in the mid-90’s hitting 97 mph the last game pitched with excellent W/K and GO/AO numbers and a 1.35 ERA in the past 8 games. A college pitcher drafted in the 9th Round in 2013 and he will turn 23 in September.

      • I don’t see any way on God’s green earth Hurdle goes to a AA SP in a pennant race w all these experienced options at his disposal. No matter how talented he may be.

      • Always laugh when people go “Blanton is experienced”. Yeah, at being an awful SP.

        Him succeeding in his current role doesnt automatically make him a good candidate for a bigger role, because thats flawed logic.

    • Oh, he certainly is dependable.

  • TurnerWardHitsTheWall
    August 22, 2015 1:31 am

    Time to look at other options to Locke when the rosters expand: Worley, Liz, Volstad in AAA, and Blanton on the ml roster.

    • The time to look for other options came months ago when it was obvious that Locke has no business being on the major-league roster. Waiting until September only will mean that Hurdle and Huntington will be forfeiting two more games by running with Locke.