Bob Smizik: Locke's amazing return

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Nobody asked me, but . . .

• What a great story Jeff Locke has become. He went from being one of the better pitchers in the National League in 2013 to being one of the worst. And from not getting a chance to win a rotation spot in spring training of 2014 to rejoining the team in June and pitching like, well, one of the better pitchers in the National League. Locke allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings in the Pirates' 6-5 win over Tampa Bay last night. Since his recall, his ERA in four starts is 2.54.

• In the best of all possible worlds, Jose Tabata would have been removed from the Pirates‘‍ roster by another team claiming him and picking up his contract, which has about $10 million remaining on it. That wasn’t to be, so the Pirates had to settle for outrighting Tabata and thus removing from the active roster the position player who had the least value. The emergence of Josh Harrison as a quality utilityman who can play the outfield made Tabata expendable.

• No one, most certainly not the Penguins, should be embarrassed by the team’s on-going coaching search. That search should be judged on the man who will be hired, not on the process. Chuck Noll and Jamie Dixon, to name two, were not the first choices of the Steelers and Pitt, respectively.

• The Pirates are going to have serious trouble unloading Tabata’s contract. He is due $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016. Not many teams will pay that for a fourth -- or fifth -- outfielder.

• Surprising competition for Tony Watson's bid to make the All-Star team: Among pitchers with 20 or more innings, Watson is third in the National League in ERA, 33nd in WHIP, 14th in K/9 and 34th in K/B. A certain former Pirates left-hander is 13th in ERA, 27th in WHIP, seventh in K/9 and fourth in K/B. That’s right! Zach Duke, the quintessential soft-tossing lefty, is seventh in the National League with an 11.97 K/9.

• A document obtained by an Indiana newspaper shows that the Big Ten is projecting a $44.5 million annual revenue distribution to each of the 12 current members in 2017-18. That is up from the current $25.7 million, already the most among the conferences. Of that $44.5 million, $33 million will be television revenue.

• The success of the St. Louis Cardinals with low-round draft choices is truly remarkable. From their current roster: third baseman Matt Carpenter, 13th round, 2009; first baseman Matt Adams, 23rd round, 2009; closer Trevor Rosenthal, 21st round, 2009; lefty reliever Nick Greenwood, 14th round 2009; lefty reliever Sam Freeman, 32nd round 2008; backup catcher Tony Cruz, 26th round, 2007; outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig, eighth round, 2006.

• One thing Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford doesn’t have to worry about is being called “a slick operator.”

• Austin Meadows, a No. 1 draft choice of the Pirates in 2013, must have the worst hamstring injury in the history of professional sports. He’s yet to make his 2014 debut.

• A Pirates 2015 rotation of Locke, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Vance Worley and Nick Kingham, with Jameson Taillon in the wings, is looking pretty good.

• In a ranking of college basketball coaches by ESPN, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon came in 25th.

• Where did the speed go? In his first two seasons with the Pirates, 2010-11, Tabata was successful on 71 percent of his steal attempts (35-of-49). For the past three seasons, he has been successful on 44 percent (12-of-27).

• The take of ESPN.com’s Keith Law on the trade with the Mets in which the Pirates got platoon first baseman Ike Davis for left-handed pitcher Blake Taylor, a second-round pick in 2013: ''Swapping a part-timer for a promising 6-foot-3 left-handed starting pitching prospect (plus organizational arm Zack Thornton) seems like a reasonable deal for both sides.’’

• MLBTR.com ranks Russell Martin as the 10th best free agent in the Class of 2015 and the top catcher.

• Former Pirates: Steve Pearce has a .961 OPS in 122 at-bats with Baltimore. He is playing first base, left field and DH-ing. ... Ryan Doumit is batting .215 with a .557 OPS in 59 at-bats with Atlanta but is 8-for-32 with a homer and five RBIs as a pinch-hitter.  ... Paul Maholm is 1-4 with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP with the Dodgers. ...  Michael McKenry is the backup catcher in Colorado where he is batting .298 with a .723 OPS in 50 plate appearances. (All stats through Monday.)

• Perhaps Gregory Polanco’s most impressive stats: In 70 plate appearances, eight walks, eight strikeouts.


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