Jeff Locke has entrenched himself in the Pirates rotation, and he is fine the team made no changes. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
We just really wanted to use the word exclusive, because it looks fancier than “one-on-one.”
Starting pitcher Jeff Locke has a unique perspective on the Pirates organization. The 25-year-old was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves, and he spent 3.5 years pitching for the winning franchise before joining the Pirates in the Nate McLouth trade. Locke then spent the next 3.5 years in Pittsburgh’s minor league system. It’s safe to say the culture of winning is stronger for the Braves than for the Pirates.
In spending parts of seven seasons in the minors, Locke had a different view of the trade market than he does now.
“You’d see the trade deadline come up and be like ‘Ah man, we should have gotten that guy. We should have gotten this guy,’” Locke said. “You don’t really understand everything at that point. You don’t understand how important team chemistry is.”
A Fresh View
Locke worked his way through the Pirates’ minor leagues the last four seasons.
The 2013 season represents Locke’s first full Big League campaign, and an All-Star one given his 2.36 ERA and .215 oppenents’ batting average in starting a team-high 21 games. He does not carry the burden of 20 straight losing seasons or even players’ disappointment the last two seasons when big-name players were not added at the trade deadline. This year, he and his teammates realize that the trade market was a ghost town throughout baseball, especially the National League Central.
“Nobody got anybody,” Locke said. “I think some of them might be the names are bigger than the person… If we were gonna make a move, it was gonna be to get somebody significant. I’m not up in the office, so I don’t what they’re saying or what they’re trying to get.”
Locke did drop names like Cubs outfielders David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz, but says personally “it almost makes you feel better” than general manager Neal Huntington kept the “special” roster in tact and believed in the currently-constructed team.
Back to that unique perspective: this is the first season since 2009 that Locke has not been in a minor league clubhouse. Those years provided hundreds of games for him to watch the Pirates’ wealth of prospects. And knowing what is coming to Pittsburgh the next few years only makes him support Huntington’s lack of action even more.
“If you want to go out and give away your whole farm system for two months of somebody’s career and a chunk of change, then that’s a decision that you make collectively up top,” Locke said. “But we have a lot down there. We have the players in the system to do whatever we want to do.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle does not plan on using Monday’s off-day to skip a start for Locke or Gerrit Cole (both on pace for about 190 regular-season innings). Hurdle, his catchers and the coaches are still conversing, but he expects every starter will simply get one extra day off between starts.
Hurdle on his fielders, still the National League’s most efficient defense by turning 71.2 percent of balls in play into outs: ”The players have bought in to the stakes we’re playing on defense with the number of shifts, the new technology and analysis system we’re using.”
What’s different about this year’s slow August start? On this day one year ago, the Pirates had a 59.3 percent chance to make the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus. They currently sit with 98.5 percent playoff odds.
Locke on the Pirates’ bullpen and comeback-happy offense: “I say this with so much truth and honesty: I’ve never been on a team where I come out of the game and I knew it wasn’t over yet. I think every pitcher has gotta feel that way on this team right now.”
Pedro Alvarez will sit Saturday rather than face Colorado Rockies LHP Jorge De La Rosa, who has kept left-handed hitters to a .214 batting average and zero home runs this year. Two of the NL’s best southpaw hitters will be in the lineup, though. Starling Marte owns a .387 average vs. left-handed pitchers this year, second in the NL, and Andrew McCutchen is third with a .371 average.
Hurdle on the success of Saturday’s starter: “Liriano’s just been in a very consistent place with repeating the delivery. The ball out of his hand looks like a strike. What you see from him that I’ve probably seen a little bit more: you see really good hitters chasing some balls that normally they might not chase,” adding that Liriano “used to try to overpower” hitters with runners on base but does not as much anymore. The lefty enters Saturday owning a 2.16 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 37 walks over 95.2 innings.
Unavailable in the bullpen for Saturday’s game: Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes and Jeanmar Gomez.