BRADENTON, Fl. – Jeff Locke used his new delivery in game action for the first time last week, and the results didn’t go so well. Today was his second time with the new windup, and the results were much better, with three shutout innings, allowing two hits, no walks, and striking out one. Despite the change in results, Locke said that the work was the same.
“Anxious last time, first game. Really excited to get it going and get it over with at the same time. Today was calmer. Focused just as much on my work as I was last time, but when you have the good results, it makes you feel like your work was better, and really it’s the same.”
Locke said that he’s just focused on his mechanics with the new delivery right now, mixing up his pitches, getting a first pitch strike, and generating ground balls. He did all of those things today. He also incorporated his other pitches a bit more, but the main focus is still on the fastball.
“We’re really trying to stick the fastball right now, but we are mixing in some changeups and breaking balls,” Locke said. “Third inning today, we mixed in a few more breaking balls. We’re just trying to get comfortable with everything right now.”
Clint Hurdle was impressed with the outing, calling the comfort with the windup and the results a nice combination.
“[He was] nailing the delivery through the windup,” Hurdle said of today’s start. “He’s gotten better each time he’s got the ball. He’s comfortable taking his hands over his head. Threw all his pitches today — fastball, curveball, changeup all played. The curveball showed up really well in the third inning. Efficient with his first pitch strikes. Six guys retired in three pitches or less. Clean and crisp. It was a good building block for him.”
I don’t think you can make much out of Locke’s results this spring, good or bad. The changes to his delivery could help him have more consistency, which obviously has been a problem for him the past few years. But until we see the results when the games matter, we won’t know how effective the switch will be. The signs for encouragement? He’s got a better chance to repeat his delivery with these mechanics, can see the plate earlier, and it’s got the Ray Searage seal of approval.
Willy Garcia Showing Off His Arm
Yesterday, Willy Garcia threw out a runner at second base, which wasn’t an unusual sight for anyone who has seen him play in the minors the last few years. He’s got the best arm in the system, and showed it off again today with another strong throw. After the game, Clint Hurdle talked about what he likes about Garcia.
“Five tools will show up,” Hurdle said. “The consistency of them is what he’s continued to work hard on. It’s a powerful arm from right field. He’s been a solid defender. He can play at all three outfield positions as well, he plays center field as well. The bat, there’s been times when he’s carried the club, and there’s been times when it’s been challenging with some chase and some spin. He’s just continuing to grow and work. The commitment level I think is growing. Maturity, he’s getting a little older every year.”
I wouldn’t call Garcia a five tool player at this point, although he was a potential five tool guy when he entered the system. He has lost some speed the last few years, and while he can play center field still, you’d only be comfortable with him at the corners, or right field at PNC Park. It’s not that he’s slow now, but in a system where you can get spoiled by Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte, Garcia isn’t a guy who would be considered for center field.
Those three outfielders also create a situation where Garcia wouldn’t ever really be considered for a starting role in Pittsburgh, especially with Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez behind him. Unless an injury occurs, he’s stuck in the middle of the best outfield in baseball, and two of the best outfield prospects in baseball.
“He sees what’s in front of him — the significance of the guys that are playing at the Major League level, and how he’s going to have to impact his game to find a fit there,” Hurdle said. “It’s been fun to watch him grow. The game’s in front of him. He’s well aware of the opportunity. It’s mostly the consistency of the offensive side of the ball needs to be the next step.”
Last year, Garcia had two different seasons. At one point he was hitting for average, and wasn’t hitting for power. Then he reverted to hitting for power, but striking out too much and not hitting for average. If he can combine the average and power, then he could force his way into the starting conversation, or at least become a valuable trade chip for a team in need of a starter. But even without that, he’s got value as a future fourth outfielder for the Pirates, with the ability to add power off the bench and defense with his elite arm.
**Trey Haley pitched a scoreless inning today, giving up one hit and striking out one. He displayed some good stuff, with a lively fastball and a nice curve. Haley is one of many relievers in camp who can hit triple digits with his fastball, sitting in the mid-90s, while pairing that pitch with a great breaking ball. The only downside — just like many other relievers in camp — is that his control has been a problem.
“He’s gotten to a good place in camp,” Hurdle said. “It’s overall consistency. You look at the numbers, you hunt the video. Pounding the strike zone is the next challenge for him. Throwing consistent strikes, throwing secondary stuff for strikes. You saw a live fastball today, very efficient fastball, and a hard hammer. It’s a power curveball. When that combination is on, it’s tough to hit. He’s another guy trying to find that niche where he nails his delivery, he keeps his alignment to home plate, the release point stays solid, and he throws strikes.”
The Pirates have been able to do this with a lot of other relievers in the past, and if it works for Haley, he could end up being this year’s version of Arquimedes Caminero.
**Alen Hanson had a great game today. I’d write more about that, but I’m working on an article on him for tomorrow. That said, I asked Clint Hurdle after the game if Hanson will be an option at shortstop, due to the Pirates’ desire to see versatility with their players. In this case, Hanson will stick at second base.
“Not right now,” Hurdle said on whether he’ll move. “We’re keeping him in one spot to help him with his consistency, and just eliminate any other distractions. Focus at second base, lock in there, and go work on the offensive game.”
**Here is the lineup for tomorrow’s game at the Phillies. I’ll be skipping the road game, and instead covering the first day of full workouts at minor league camp.