Bob Smizik: Worley looks good, but...

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The pitching performances this weekend of Jeff Locke and Vance Worley brought to mind something Jim Leyland once said about another pitcher.

In June of 1990, Neal Heaton was 10-2 for the Pirates and headed to the All-Star Game. I intended to write a story about Heaton and sat down next to Leyland in the Pirates dugout to get his take. I posed a question that shed a favorable light on Heaton and Leyland’s answer has stuck with me to this day: ''Don’t get too excited about Neal Heaton.’’

Heaton was 2-6 the rest of the season and Leyland taught me a good lesson.

Which is why I say today: Don’t get too excited about Jeff Locke and Vance Worley.

Yep, they might be just what the Pirates need. They might be good enough to keep a struggling Francisco Liriano, currently on the disabled list, out of the rotation in the weeks and months ahead. And maybe not.

Locke and Worley were excellent over the weekend. On Friday, Locke pitched eight innings against Miami and allowed two runs and seven hits while striking out seven and walking none. It was his second consecutive strong start. Worley started yesterday in his 2014 MLB debut and allowed the Marlins no runs and five hits in seven innings while striking out five and walking none.

What’s not to like?

For starters, their recent history. Both had trouble getting batters out in Class AAA.

• In Worley’s final six starts for Indianapolis, his ERA was 5.18.

• Locke has made two starts in his current stint with the Pirates. In 15 innings his ERA is 1.80 and he has walked one and struck out 12. In his three most recent starts at Indianapolis, his ERA was 4.76 and he walked 12 while striking out 10.

Both are exciting additions to the Pirates roster. Both have a history of MLB success. Locke made the All-Star team last year. Worley was 11-3 with Philadelphia in 2011. But Locke faltered so badly in the second half of last season he was never given a chance to make the rotation this year. Before yesterday, Worley was 7-14 with a 5.00 ERA after 2011.

Worley might turn out to be a savvy acquisition by general manager Neal Huntington and Locke might return to his early 2013 form. But Leyland’s words about Heaton ring in my ears.

•••

• What was Clint Hurdle thinking when he pitched to Casey McGehee with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the tenth with the game tied? Two innings earlier, McGehee reminded the Pirates of what he can do in a clutch situation when he hit a two-run double that tied the game. Didn’t Hurdle know that McGehee was batting around .400 with runners in scoring position this season?

If McGehee, who won the game with a sacrifice fly, had been walked, that would have brought Garrett Jones, a left-handed batter, up to face Jared Hughes, a right-hander. But Hughes has fared well against lefties this season and had a .225 BAA against them.

Just a half-inning earlier, the Pirates Russell Martin, in a bases-loaded situation, grounded into a double play to diffuse a possible game-winning rally.

• No one should have had a problem with Hurdle removing Worley after seven innings in favor of Tony Watson. Not only had the Pirates got way more than they expected from Worley, but he was replaced by Tony Watson, who had not allowed a run since April. Correct managerial strategy; bad player execution.

• Pedro Alvarez was charged with his 15th error of the season, an MLB high, in the third inning, but it was an errant throw that wasn’t called an error -- but should have -- in the eighth that cost the Pirates the game. A good throw from Alvarez clearly had Jeff Baker beaten, although the official scorer called the play a hit. Alvarez bounced the throw and Ike Davis could not field it clearly. If the throw was on target and Baker were out, McGehee never would have got to bat in that inning to hit a game-tying two-run double.


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