Pedro Alvarez gestures before crossing home plate after hitting the first of his two home runs in the Pirates' 5-2 win Saturday at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MILWAUKEE -- When Jeff Locke threw his 100th and final pitch Saturday afternoon, he bookended a period of a year and a half of improvement and development.
The pitch, to catcher Jonathan Lucroy with a runner on first and one out, turned into a ground ball down the third-base line. Pedro Alvarez had a long throw to second to start the double play, but he made it, knowing Lucroy and the other baserunner, Aramis Ramirez, lacked speed.
The double play ended the sixth inning, Locke's final frame. Locke's six scoreless innings and four Pirates home runs, two from Alvarez, gave the Pirates a 5-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park and their eighth victory in 10 games.
"He's got some history in this park that's not good," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Locke. "Through the development of this season, he's finding out where he can get outs."
Locke shut out a powerful and predominantly right-handed Brewers lineup Saturday in a hitter-friendly ballpark, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out seven. He has not allowed a run in his past 14 innings, dating to the fifth inning of his start May 14 against the Brewers at PNC Park.
Hurdle credited Locke's success Saturday with his ability to throw his fastball inside to right-handers.
"Once he got ahead, he was able to do basically whatever he needed to," Andrew McCutchen said. "Expand, get them to chase, be able to waste some pitches. He kept them guessing, kept mixing his pitches well."
Locke returned to Miller Park for the first time since his fourth major league start and his final outing of 2011. He allowed five runs and three home runs in four innings that day.
Chris Leroux, Daniel Moskos, Brian Burres and Daniel McCutchen followed Locke on the mound in that game. A lot of time has passed since then, and Locke has changed as a pitcher.
"I'm not going to say it's easy to come here and pitch when you're pitching well, it's not easy to do that anywhere, but the confidence is there that I never had before, and that's the big difference," Locke said.
Locke improved to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.45 in a season where he has served as part of the foundation of the pitching staff. In Locke's three most recent starts before Saturday, he had held opponents to a .549 on-base plus slugging percentage and had a 1.89 ERA. He had allowed only one home run in 19 innings.
"It's the thing that you look for out of players to see them grow up right before your eyes," Hurdle said. "It's kind of like marking [the height of] that kid off in the hallway at home.
"He's growing up. This has got to be a boost to his confidence for a couple reasons. This park, that lineup."
Alvarez, McCutchen and Neil Walker homered against spot starter Mike Fiers, who took Kyle Lohse's spot in the rotation because Lohse had elbow pain.
McCutchen entered the game with five hits, three of them home runs, in nine career at-bats against Fiers. With two outs in the first, Fiers fell behind McCutchen, 1-0. His next pitch was a fastball up in the zone on the inner half of the plate.
McCutchen crushed a line drive to left field that cleared the wall, his third home run against Fiers in as many at-bats and seventh of the season.
"It's not a matter of what the count is or whatnot," McCutchen said. "Everybody's just ready to hit and that's the biggest thing. Everybody was ready to hit."
After Walker singled in the second, Alvarez turned on a fastball for his ninth home run of the season. The Pirates led, 3-0.
In the fourth, Walker homered into the second deck in right field for his second home run of the season and the Pirates led, 4-0.
The Pirates sent Fiers (1-3) from the game after four innings and four runs on five hits.
Alvarez hit his 10th of the season in the ninth off of Alfredo Figaro. Figaro's first-pitch changeup ended up in second deck in right field, an estimated 459 feet away from home plate.
Carlos Gomez hit two home runs for the Brewers, one off Justin Wilson and one against Tony Watson.