Jeff Locke says he has “gotten much better” over the last two years.
A weekend start at Dodger Stadium presents Jeff Locke a familiar setting for a new kind of outing.
He pitched here in September 2011 for his second career Major League start and first on the road. It was even his first time in California. It was an experience Locke says was “overwhelming,” and he was done after only three innings without even getting a strikeout.
“By the time I came out of the game, I didn’t even feel like I did anything,” Locke said.
But that was a late-season start after his Triple-A season had already ended, and his August recall last year was not that different. This time, Locke comes to Dodger Stadium with a new delivery and a more “comforting” situation as part of the opening 25-man roster.
“They wouldn’t have you here if you didn’t deserve it or if they didn’t have trust and belief in you,” Locke said.
The 25-year-old lefty realizes much of his Big League status is based on just 27.1 innings of success in Spring Training. His six Florida starts culminated in a 2.63 ERA, 15 strikeouts and a locker with the Pirates. But with so many pitchers making their recovery back to the Majors, what does Locke have to do to keep the spot he has earned?
“There’s nothing really more to be done in Triple-A unless he finds a challenge here that he’s not able to meet right now,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
The pitcher’s numbers with Indianapolis last year line up with Hurdle’s statement (10-5, 2.48 ERA, 131 K, 43 BB in 141.2 innings). The manager added that Locke “has the weapons to compete,” from his changeup to working his fastball on both sides of the plate, and a breaking ball with “nice, tight depth.”
Locke watched fellow left-hander Jonathan Sanchez succeed against the Dodgers on Friday, and took note of the fact that he has to stay aggressive in pitching to a team that has swung the bat the fewest times in the NL through five games (41.6% swing rate).
McKenry Makes Debut
As with Locke, Sunday will be the first game of 2013 for catcher Michael McKenry. The backstop says Locke is “a lot of fun to catch,” but there is at least one focus for a season debut.
“You’re gonna have to slow his heartbeat down today,” McKenry said. “That’s the tendency when guys are making their first start.”
McKenry is “ecstatic” to start, but he steps into the lineup at a time when the Pirates’ offense has been nonexistent. He says he will not press to make an instant impact after his career year (.320 OBP, .762 OPS, 12 HR) one season ago.
“We gotta go back to Little League sometimes,” McKenry said. “Just see it and hit it.”
Pirates fans should take note that McKenry is now number 19 after allowing new catcher Russell Martin to take number 55. When McKenry and Locke take the field, reliever Chris Leroux will become the only player on the Opening Day roster to not have made an appearance in 2013.
Pirates Face an Unfamiliar Ryu
The Bucs do not have a lot of video on Dodgers’ Sunday starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, just a few starts for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic and Summer Olympics plus Ryu’s 6.1 innings with only one earned run Tuesday against the Giants.
“We’ve seen what we’ve been able to see,” Hurdle said. “We’ve got to get him up in the zone, back him up. The fastball’s firm, the other stuff is going to make his fastball play a little bit better.”
The left-handed Ryu did give up 10 hits in his MLB debut in front of close to 50 Korean photographers and reporters. Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted to Hurdle that Ryu, 26 years old, does not throw between starts or in the offseason, an unusual approach. Though the Dodgers knew what was coming when they posted $25.7 million to negotiate with Ryu, followed by a six-year, $36 million contract.
“When you go out and get the best player in South Korea, and he’s done things a certain way, I guess you’re gonna honor that,” Hurdle said. “I think there is room for individuality… Vladimir Guerrero, in 2010, I can count on one hand the number of times he came in to the cage for me to work with him. All he took was [batting practice].
Pittsburgh Pirates (1-4)
LF Starling Marte
2B Neil Walker (S)
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Gaby Sanchez
C Michael McKenry (2013 debut)
3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
RF Jose Tabata
SS John McDonald (first Pirates start)
LHP Jeff Locke
Los Angeles Dodgers (3-2)
LF Carl Crawford (L)
2B Nick Punto (S)
CF Matt Kemp
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
RF Jerry Hairston Jr.
3B Juan Uribe
C Tim Federowicz
SS Justin Sellers
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu