MIAMI – Jeff Locke did something tonight that he’s never done in his career before: pitch into the ninth inning as a starter. It hadn’t happened in his previous 100 big league starts. It never happened in the minors, and didn’t happen in prep ball, where they only play seven innings anyway.
“I’ve been in there twice before out of the pen in like 10-0 games,” Locke said. “Unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. Actually, I’ve never been a part of it. It was pretty special.”
The end result was a complete game shutout for the lefty, his first complete game in 101 MLB starts. It was also a game where he flirted with a Maddux — a complete game shutout on less than 100 pitches — eventually ending the game with 105 pitches. It didn’t take long for Locke to realize that the complete game was a possible. In fact, he started thinking about it in the fourth inning after seeing his early pitch count.
“I was like ‘If things go really well for the next hour and a half, I’m lined up for a pretty good game.’ But there was never really that big inning, and that’s something that’s plagued me throughout my career was a big inning, or two big innings in a game.”
Clint Hurdle was impressed with Locke’s outing, and met the starter on the field as he came off the mound, giving him a hug, followed by the coaching staff congratulating Locke in a line.
“I told him he was getting a standing ovation from the coaching staff,” Hurdle said. “The guys are happy for him. The guys are pumped too, the entire team. Those are the moments that you really embrace and you don’t take for granted.”
Hurdle praised Locke for having complete command of all his pitches, holding his velocity late in the game, getting 13 ground ball outs, and 11 batters in three pitches or less. He did point out that Locke only threw 12 of 28 first pitch strikes, which was the one downside tonight. However, he battled back by throwing 2-0 and 2-1 off-speed pitches for strikes and weak hits, escaping any issues from falling behind. He also benefited from some nice plays on the field.
“Fantastic, to go through that lineup as efficiently as he did with no walks and one strikeout,” Hurdle said. “Get them to swing, and mis-hits. We threw some leather out there behind him tonight, which was fantastic as well. Just proud of him. He continues to work hard. This was the culmination of hard work.”
Locke received some help in the sixth inning, when the Pirates scored five runs, capped off by Gregory Polanco’s first career grand slam. The score was 2-0 prior to that inning, but the big offensive outburst put the Pirates up 7-0, and allowed Locke to cruise the rest of the way.
“What’s impressive, this guy is running up there hot, 96-97, and he throws him a changeup at 91, and [Gregory] is right on time,” Hurdle said of the home run off Marlins’ reliever Jose Urena. “Just a really pretty swing. He sees the ball well here.”
Polanco entered tonight with a .500/.548/.679 line in his career at Marlins Park, spanning 31 plate appearances. This was also where he hit his first big league home run, coming on June 13, 2014.
“I see it really well,” Polanco said of this park. “When I come here, I always feel good, and I see the ball really good.”
The Pirates also got a two run homer from Sean Rodriguez, and an RBI single from David Freese in the ninth inning, capping off a 10-0 victory.
**The entire offense was working tonight, with 10 runs on 14 hits. Hurdle praised the opposite field approach of the team after the game for these results: “I think it’s a good ballpark to see the ball, it’s just a hard ballpark to reach the bleachers. We pounded some balls tonight into the deep part. But the way we struck the ball to the opposite field was very, very impressive.”
**Sean Rodriguez not only had a big game at the plate, but had some nice plays on the field, getting the start tonight at shortstop.
“I hit balls to him everyday at short,” Hurdle said. “I believe he can play shortstop. This year we wanted to put him in play where he can get more reps. Just outside the first base defense at the end, we’ve been able to do that. We moved him all over the field.”
**David Freese had four hits tonight, including two doubles, while getting the start at first base. He continues looking like a valuable off-season pickup, now hitting for an .802 OPS.
“He’s a ballplayer,” Hurdle said. “He grinds out at-bats. He’s another guy with some history here. He’s hit the ball here well in the past. Another guy that just showed you that opposite field gap. The one ground ball through the left side, and then three bullets the other way. Letting the ball travel, seeing it deep, getting the barrel to it, handling himself over at first.”
**Jeff Locke was greeted by a very excited Francisco Cervelli after the final out, and had a lot to say about his catcher, and how Cervelli has helped him lately.
“He just gets fired up about a lot of stuff. I was pretty excited too. Sometimes he talks so fast, I can’t even hear him. He was pretty excited, and he told me after the game that he thinks the way I’ve thrown the ball over the last six weeks, regardless of result, is just the way I need to be. To not let little things get to me, to care if you give up a two out hit or a lead off hit. Just go after the next guy and get a double play. Last year and this year, when we’ve had him, he just instills so much confidence in the pitchers. It’s not always going to be your night out there, but he does a good job of just keeping you focused on the task at hand, and never getting too far ahead of yourself.”
**Locke really seems to love pitching in Miami. His last seven inning start on the road came in Miami on 8/26/15. His only other eight inning start on the road was in Miami on 6/13/14, the same day Polanco hit his first homer. Locke has a 1.76 ERA at Marlins Park in four starts, spanning 30.2 innings after tonight.