Jun 28, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher
(49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
#2) July 4 – Jeff Locke vs Cleveland Indians
Fans may be surprised to see Locke this high on the list but on America’s birthday, he delivered the best start of his career and paved the way for a 5-game win streak.
Speaking of 5-game win streaks, the Cleveland Indians came into PNC Park sporting one of their own only for Jeff Locke to cool them down and send them into a stretch of 19 games that saw them go 6-13. One start singlehandedly changed the next few weeks for both teams and people say momentum doesn’t exist in sports.
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It seemed as if it was going to be a struggle for Locke as he allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first two innings. However, he was able to induce ground ball double plays from the next batter in both cases and then really settled into a groove.
A groove may be an understatement for the trance Locke fell into on the mound. After a single by Giovanny Urshela in the 2nd inning, Locke retired the next 19 batters in a row. This was a Jeff Locke that Pirates’ fans had never seen before and unfortunately, haven’t seen again since.
Much like the start from Burnett on the previous slide, the Pirates didn’t give Locke much run support to work with (just one run scored on a Neil Walker single in the 6th inning) meaning that any run he allowed could have lost him the game. Locke picked up the guys behind him, though, and as he waited for offensive support, recorded 18 outs without letting the Indians even sniff a scoring chance.
Locke did strike out six, but he walked none and allowed just two hits which kept his innings short. Short innings equal long starts and Locke was able to go 8 shutout innings on just 89 pitches. Had Mark Melancon not been lights out or if the top of the order wasn’t due up in the 9th, I’m certain we would have seen Locke take a shot at that complete game shutout.
The sinker was Locke’s bread and butter on this day – as it usually is – but the reason he was so successful was his changeup. It breaks similarly to his sinker but his ability to take almost 11 MPH off it had the Indians off balance all afternoon. He poured in changeups at an 80.8% strike rate while making batters swing and miss at a higher rate (15.4%) than any other pitch.
He changed speeds excellently all day and when a change in velocity wasn’t enough, he changed directions with his curveball and completely fooled the Indians’ hitters like he did here to Jason Kipnis:
Locke was up and down all season and it’s made him a bit difficult to project his performance of the future. He’s caught a lot of criticism from fans but I’d imagine most of it comes because they see how effective he can be and are frustrated by his inconsistency. This outing has been an outlier so far in Locke’s career but now that we’ve seen him at his absolute best, hopefully he can find a way to regularly recreate it or at least build off the things that gave him success.