When the Pirates packed their bags to depart spring training, Jeff Locke was the last man to make the rotation. Now, he's the last man standing.
First, a shoulder injury to James McDonald. Ineffectiveness caused Jonathan Sanchez's departure. Forearm pain forced Wandy Rodriguez to the disabled list, and A.J. Burnett's calf injury was the latest blow.
Locke, the final remnant of the Pirates' opening-day rotation, has been one of its most impressive members. His performance in the 3-0 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night at PNC Park only enhanced his body of work.
In front of a sellout crowd of 36,878, Locke (6-1) shut out the Dodgers for seven innings. He allowed only two hits and a walk, struck out five and threw 75 pitches. No Dodger reached second base.
"It looked effortless," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He just made pitches the entire seven innings."
After walking seven batters in 52/3 innings in his last start, Locke walked only one Friday. Locke said he refocused on his direction toward the plate in his bullpen session this week.
"What he showed you today was the ability to make an adjustment within four days and then take it into a game and compete very, very well," Hurdle said.
Not only has Locke served as a mainstay in the rotation, his performance has been consistent as well. He has failed to complete five innings only once, in his third start of the season. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since May 4.
His 2.19 ERA is the lowest of any member of the rotation. Despite that, he said he still has not allowed himself to settle into his role.
"I wouldn't say comfort level's changing," he said. "Still uncomfortable, but the confidence is definitely there. That's something I gained in spring training."
Locke breezed through the first three innings in 27 pitches. Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' rookie phenom, reached on a bunt single to lead off the game and Mark Ellis singled in the second, but they didn't get any farther.
After Ellis' single, Locke didn't allow another hit. Nick Punto walked and Adrian Gonzalez reached on a fielder's choice in the fourth, but those were the only baserunners he allowed.
Hurdle removed Locke after the seventh inning, at which point Locke had retired the final 10 batters he faced. Mark Melancon, who had not pitched in a week, made things interesting in the eighth but kept the Dodgers scoreless. Two men reached in the ninth against Jason Grilli, but Grilli earned his 24th save.
"I actually write a number down, what I'm looking for, innings and pitches, before every game," Hurdle said. "I actually felt if he could get us to the seventh inning -- Locke -- it would be really, really good.
"You always love it when they come in under the pitches that you put down. This will give him a little breather. He didn't have to go throw 100-plus."
The Pirates (40-27) had Dodgers starter Stephen Fife on the ropes in the third, but only scored two runs. Thanks to Locke, that's all they would need.
Six Pirates reached base in the third, but only two scored. Alex Presley and Russell Martin singled before Andrew McCutchen's double to right field. Both runners scored, Martin sliding in just ahead of the relay, and the Pirates had a 2-0 lead.
Neil Walker reached on a fielder's choice when McCutchen was thrown out at the plate running on contact. Pedro Alvarez's double bounced over the low wall in left field, forcing Walker to stop at third, and the Dodgers (28-38) intentionally walked Travis Snider with first base open.
Clint Barmes came up with the bases loaded, but flied out.
McCutchen's speed added another run in the eighth. He singled, went to third on Gaby Sanchez's single and tagged up on Walker's pop out in foul territory.
Brandon Cumpton will make his major league debut today. Gerrit Cole, another new addition, will start Sunday.
"These little hiccups happen all the time, with every team," Locke said of the rotation's injuries. "You're fortunate it's not you."
The rotation will continue to revolve around Locke, as it has all season.pirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 15, 2013 4:00 AM