Locke eager to rejoin Pirates rotation

Rookie aims to end second-half slump

MILWAUKEE -- Attempting to put public perception in perspective, Pirates starter Jeff Locke referred to the best in the business.

"Last night, Kershaw gave up 11 hits and five runs," Locke said Tuesday. "And he had a special on SportsCenter."

That's Kershaw as in Clayton, the Los Angeles Dodgers ace whose 1.89 ERA leads the major leagues and who likely will win the National League Cy Young award this year.

"It doesn't happen to him very often but it happens to everybody," Locke said. "And that's the thing - can you stop the bleeding?"

In the season's second half, Locke has struggled to stop the bleeding in his outings to the point that the Pirates skipped his turn in the rotation. He will return Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom the Pirates are locked in a race for the National League Central title.

"Maybe if we're not in the same type of situation that we're in right now, maybe you do stay in [the rotation]," Locke said. "Maybe if we're not hunting for next month, maybe you do stay in. But then you try to find a way to pitch through it. Sometimes the best thing to do is kind of step away, regroup, hit the reset button and get back after it again."

Crediting the 10 days off between starts as more beneficial mentally than physically, Locke said injury was not behind his poor performance. After a 2.15 first-half ERA earned him a spot on the All-Star team, a 6.18 ERA in eight starts after the break forced the Pirates' hand.

"Everybody wants to talk about, 'This is his first half and this is his second,'" Locke said. "The first half of the season isn't even a half of the season, it's more than that. Because there were no games in the first half where I got roughed up, all it takes is one in the second half for someone to say, 'Oh geez, look at this.'"

Locke has not finished five innings in his past three starts, dovetailing with the second-half trend of shorter outings. The low point came Aug. 17 against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings.

"I'm thinking the same thing, 'Is there any way I can stop this bleeding right now?'?" he said. "You get two outs on four pitches and then you give up seven hits in a row, it just happened. There weren't any balls hit at anybody, there were no miscues in the field, everything was thrown by me and hit by them. Sometimes, you don't tip your cap, but you just say, 'You got me.'"

An increase in walks issued is the most glaring cause of Locke's struggles. Locke's walks per nine innings went from just more than four in April to 3.31 in May and 4.18 in June to 5.22 in July and 6.35 in August. He has walked at least four batters in four of his past eight starts.

Locke's rate of line drives allowed, which hovered around 15 percent from May through July, jumped to 29.1 percent in August, according to Fangraphs.com. His home run-to-fly ball rate also increased to 14.3 percent from around 4 percent in the past three months.

Locke said he added extra workouts during the long layoff and continued to throw off a mound to maintain his feel for the slope. Other than that, he accepted the break for what it was and will use it as inspiration.

"Having to watch some of the games, as opposed to being out there, kind of gave you a different appreciation for it," he said. "It makes you wish, 'God, I want to be back in there, that's where I give the high fives.'"


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 6, 2013 3:45 AM


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