Pirates Jeff Locke Stakes Claim To Rotation Spot
By Tom Smith
Pirates left hander Jeff Locke looked sharp in his start against the Tampa Bay Rays
Early in the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays we tweeted that Jay Bell had some work to do. Little did we know that on a day that we expected to see some Bucco offense a pitching duel would break out between some talented arms with plenty to prove on both sides of the diamond.
But once the regulars hit the road, the Bucs got busy scratching out some offense.
Wait….that’s not quite fair. Pirates right fielder Starling Marte had another nice day at the plate. #MartePartay broke the ice from his leadoff spot as he was the only Pirates regular to get a hit in the game when he opened the fourth with the first hit of the game.
Marte easily stole second. It took him two pitches to get his protective wrist sleeve attached, but once he did it was a thing of beauty.
Starling Marte stole his first base of the Grapefruit League season against the Rays.
Starling Marte slides in safely at second base.
But the Pirates left fielder only scored because the Rays botched a play in the infield during a sloppy fourth inning for the home squad.
The real challenge for the Buccos hitters was the first three pitchers they faced who needed only 33 pitches to get through the first three innings. We felt bad for new hitting coach Jay Bell.
Roberto Hernandez pitched strong in his Rays debut and appeared nothing like the pitcher who was in Cleveland last season.
Of course, the Buccos matched the efffort of Hernandez behind a strong start from southpaw Jeff Locke who is in a battle to make the Bucs crowded five-man rotation. The Bucs went away easily after just 12 pitches from Hernandez in the top of the first. (Marte did hang and showed some patience, but Hernandez was just in the zone)
Junkballer Jeff Niemann followed Hernandez and the right hander was just as nasty only bothering to throw eleven pitches to get two strikeouts as he quickly shut down the Bucs in the second. We thought we would be back at Joe Crackers sipping some more beer in less than an hour.
Reliever Fernando Rodney made me think that I wasn’t crazy when he struckout the side in the third inning pumping up the gas to 96 miles per hour. The Bucs didn’t stand a chance. It only took ten pitches for them to vanish in the third inning—nine of those pitches were strikes.
Yeh, he looks ready to head to the WBC, hat askew and everything.
But the big story for Pirates fans was the lefty Jeff Locke who tossed three hitless innings, he would have been perfect if not for a border line walk he allowed in the third. Locke was down in the zone and touched 93 a few times, but mainly sat in the 90 mile per hour range. He mixed speeds and kept the ball down in the zone forcing numerous groundballs in his effective outing.
We will get some pictures up later for you.
Wil Myers was hitless in one at-bat, and worked a walk in his Rays debut
Big hitter: Felix Pie crushed a ball into right center field for a triple. The guy can run too.
Unsung star: Andy Hernandez had an excellent turn on a big double play–well, a big spring training double play ball. Hernandez also had two hits including a double. Yesterday before the Black and Gold scrimmage we saw him destroy a ball of batting practice pitcher Rick Sofield over the right field boardwalk.
Darren Ford had two hits, but also lost a ball in the wind/sun to allow two Rays runs to score in the eighth inning.
Brooks Brown…more smoke.
Mike Zagurski is a big boy.
Vin Mazarro was popping the glove, the right hander broke two bats to get the first two outs and then had a hiccup, but got off the hook.
The ponds surrounding Charlotte Sports Park are dangerous.