CINCINNATI -- For weeks now, sabermetrically-minded baseball followers have predicted Jeff Locke's decline.
Locke hears it. He just doesn't care.
The left-handed starter gave up one run and one hit Sunday as the Pirates beat the Reds, 3-2, at Great American Ball Park to snap a three-game losing skid.
"The whole 'When's he gonna fall? When's this gonna happen?' -- it doesn't do anything for me," Locke said. "It doesn't fuel my fire. It's just people talking. It doesn't bother me. It doesn't even really give me that much more motivation because I know what's important are all my teammates here."
In his first start of the second half, Locke struck out six and walked four to pick up his ninth victory of the season, tying him with Francisco Liriano for the team lead. He missed his previous start and was inactive for the All-Star Game after experiencing tightness in his lower back.
Pirates vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park, Washington.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19) vs. RHP Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61).
- Key matchup:
Morton vs. left-handed batters, who are hitting .260 against him in six games this season. Morton has never completed a season holding left-handers below .301.
- Hidden stat:
Haren and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse have surrendered a National League-worst 19 home runs this season. Haren has done it in three fewer starts.
He showed no lingering effects from the injury and got the help he needed from an offense that had been woefully ineffective the past several games.
The Pirates (57-39) were riding an 0-for-29 streak at the plate with runners in scoring position before Jordy Mercer slapped a single in the seventh inning that drove in Michael McKenry from second base, breaking a 1-1 tie.
"The worst thing you can do is think about it when you go to the plate," Mercer said. " 'Oh geez, there's a guy on second base. Here we go again.' You just keep doing your thing and eventually it's going to find a hole. And it did."
Jose Tabata followed two batters later with another hit with a runner in scoring position, a line drive to center field that scored Mercer.
"You play three games and don't get any hits with any runners in scoring position, it could be a little problematic," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were able to find a way to do that."
But while the offense showed signs of life, it still had its struggles. The Pirates struck out 16 times, one shy of their season high.
Locke (9-2) pitched himself into a hole -- literally and figuratively -- in the fifth when the Reds (55-43) erased an early one-run deficit. He walked back-to-back batters with one out in the inning as he kept stepping into a hole on the mound.
"He actually threw some fastballs that were 84 mph," McKenry said. "You could tell it was really affecting him."
Locke threw a wild pitch when a curveball slipped out of his hand, allowing Zack Cozart to come home and tie the score, 1-1. He moved his setup from the left edge of the mound to the right edge to avoid the hole and escaped the fifth without further damage.
"Stuff like that doesn't mess with me, or I don't think about it," Locke said. "I know the plate's not going anywhere."
Stat gurus point to Locke's peripheral numbers and advanced metrics to suggest his ERA (2.11) and loss totals are due to climb.
"I can promise you at some point this season I'm going to get touched up," he said. "That's part of baseball. It happens to everybody. There are probably a lot of people waiting for my rough day to come, and when it comes, it comes. Hopefully we go out there and score seven that day."
With the victory, the Pirates matched their win total from the 2010 season.
Mark Melancon pitched himself into a jam in the bottom of the eighth when he issued two walks and gave up a single to load the bases with no outs. But he limited the Reds to one run by inducing back-to-back grounders. Joey Votto hit into a double play and Brandon Phillips grounded out to short to end the inning with the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead.
The Pirates outlasted Reds starter Homer Bailey, who threw 121 pitches before succumbing to fatigue in the seventh. He gave up four hits that inning after allowing three through the first six.
Bailey (5-9) struck out a season-high 12, allowing three earned runs on seven hits in 61/3 innings.
"That was the best I've ever seen Bailey," said Garrett Jones, who played all nine innings of Bailey's no-hitter against the Pirates last season. "Velocity was up, cutter was nasty. And he was hitting his spots well, elevating when he needed to."
He homered off Bailey in the second, a solo shot that gave the Pirates their first lead of the three-game series. It was the second home run of the weekend for Jones, who said he started to feel more comfortable at the plate shortly before the All-Star break.
After hitting 27 home runs last season, Jones has 10 this year.
"I think I'm just one of the pieces that need to pick it up," he said. "I had a slow first half, but this is the time to hit and be productive and help the team win."
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published July 21, 2013 8:45 PM