Pirates Jeff Locke can start his comeback on right foot



Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the theme of the past week was overcoming adversity, something his players did with aplomb in the first two games of their series against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday and Saturday. Now he's hoping to keep that theme going into this week with the recall of left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke from Class AAA Indianapolis.

Locke, a member of the starting rotation for most of last season before being benched for the playoffs, was brought up to start today's game against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.

"For whatever reason, the theme this week seems to be overcoming challenges," Hurdle said. "He definitely had his share in the second half of the season. He came to spring training, got to a good place early and unfortunately he was hurt. It's a great opportunity for him to embrace what he has today and keep focused on where he wants to go and how he's going to get there."

Locke injured his oblique muscle and could not compete for a starting job in the rotation in spring training. In four starts at Indianapolis, he had a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings. He has struck out 17 and walked five.

Locke was pulled after two innings in his most recent start Thursday night in anticipation of him starting today against the Giants.

General manager Neal Huntington labeled Locke as a "spot" starter. Due to upcoming off days, he said there is no need for a fifth starter for a while. The Pirates chose Locke over Wandy Rodriguez, who was eligible to come off the disabled list.

"He's had some really good signs and like most other pitchers, he's made some mistakes," Huntington said of Locke. "His breaking ball has continued to get sharper. He's been 90-94 [mph] on the fastball. His changeup has continued to come and go. When he's aggressive with it, it's a good major league pitch. When he's passive with it, then it gets hit hard. He continues to mature. No one wants to be in Triple-A. He feels like he's a big leaguer and he's probably not wrong."

Another rehab for Wandy

Rodriguez will get another minor league rehab start before returning to the Pirates. That start is tentatively set for Tuesday.

In Rodriguez's first rehab assignment with Class AA Altoona, he gave up four runs and four hits. He needed 74 pitches to get through 31/3 innings.

"No setback," Hurdle said. "He needs more time. It made sense for him to go pitch again, to go through all his pitches and try to push it close to 100 [pitches] and see where he can take it."

Red flag for Pimentel

Stolmy Pimentel landed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation Saturday, an injury Hurdle and his staff suspected but one Pimentel did not reveal until recently.

Hurdle said he thought something was amiss when Pimentel's velocity was down, but Pimentel never acknowledged something was wrong until after he allowed the winning home run Thursday against the Orioles.

"The velocity was down for a while, which got our attention," Hurdle said. "You ask a guy and they tell you they're fine. There are a lot of reasons they tell you that. Some of them are new to the game or new to an organization, need an opportunity and don't want to pass on it.

"We're best-served on taking care of ourselves by making sure they take care of themselves. I'm glad he got comfortable to let us know where he stood physically so we could calm him down, build him back up and get the guy we really like on the mound."

Mercer breaks slump

Shortstop Jordy Mercer was handed the starting job this season after hitting .285 last season as a rookie. He entered Sunday batting just .162, but was hoping the double that broke an 0-for-25 slump Saturday will get him pointed in the right direction.

Mercer had been taking extra swings in the batting cage in hopes of breaking out.

"You're always putting in extra work no matter what," he said.

"When you do go through a little scuffle, you want to get in there as much as you can and figure it out. That's what I've been doing, try to work on it, get it figured out and going in the right direction."

Sanchez woes not uncommon

Catcher Tony Sanchez continues to have problems with his throwing. He committed an error for the second time this season throwing to first base after a strikeout Saturday, his third error overall.

Huntington said Sanchez, who is the starter until Russell Martin returns from the disabled list, must continue to battle through the problem.

"You'd be surprised at the number of catchers in the major leagues that have had some level of this challenge at some point in their careers," Huntington said. "Some guys you would never think of. We have staff members who have been other places where players have worked through it. He's certainly capable of it. It's yet another challenge for him to overcome."

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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