PITTSBURGH — Jeff Locke’s last seven starts have been a Jekyll and Hyde performance worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson.
In four straight wins from May 19 to June 4, he gave up nine runs in 29.1 innings, pitching into the seventh inning in all four starts.
Following that run, Locke threw two consecutive sub-par performances. He gave up 18 runs over just 8.2 innings, failing to get out of the fifth inning in either of the starts.
In Monday’s 1-0 win over the San Francisco Giants, Locke pitched 6.2 shutout innings and surrendered just five hits.
Good Locke, bad Locke, good Locke.
But the results don’t seem to necessarily be in Locke’s hands. During his four-game hot stretch, hitters had just a .202 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In his subsequent two starts, that number skyrocketed to .486. On Monday, the Giants managed just a .227 line on batted balls.
So how much of good Locke, bad Locke is just luck? A good bit, he admitted.
“They hit the ball where we were standing tonight,” Locke said. “I seem to throw pretty well when I don’t walk anybody either. We kept guys off the bases with free passes, guys made plays when we needed them. I’m just trying to fill up the strike zone.”
The recipe for success is pretty clear, then: don’t walk batters and pitch to weak contact. He was spot on both of those points Monday. He didn’t give up any walks, the Giants recorded just one base hit and had less than a handful of hard-hit balls.
“I was on the same page with [Erik] Kratz the whole night,” Locke said. “We had a good game plan going in. We knew they were going to be aggressive. Someone that doesn’t strike a lot of people out like me, when you get early contact, weak contact, it’s going to play in your favor most of the time.”
On the season, Locke’s BABIP is .302, which is just a tick over the league average and Locke’s career average of .298. That’s a remarkably consistent figure for a player whose outcomes in 2016 have been widely variable.
Kratz gave the Pirates’ the only offense they could muster against Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner with a solo home run to left field in the fifth inning. Left fielder Angel Pagan made a leaping attempt, but couldn’t hold on to the ball and it fell over the wall.
The home run was the first in the Major Leagues for Kratz since August of 2014 and his first hit since re-joining the Pirates. But rather than take credit for the one in the runs column on the scoreboard, Kratz was more focused on the zero.
“The nothing part of if it is what I came over [from the Angels],” he said. “I can hit some home runs, but the zeroes will always win you games.”
• Jordy Mercer hit 2 for 4 in the leadoff position. He’s now batting .321/.400/.528 in the first spot.
• The Pirates still do not have a scheduled starter for Tuesday, but Wilfredo Boscan seems more and more likely.