Jeff Locke came through with a solid performance when the Pirate’s needed it the most.
Entering last night’s contest with the Colorado Rockies the Pirate bullpen was taxed. They were forced to cover seven innings in a wild 12-10 Pirate victory on Sunday, and three of the eight men in the bullpen were unavailable. To further complicate things, the Pirates were sending their worst starting pitcher to the mound at arguably the best hitters park in all of baseball. However, Jeff Locke came through in a big way for his team last night.
Last night Locke twirled six innings of five hit, two walk, eight strikeout shutout ball. Even though Locke went six innings allowing just one run in his first start of the season against the Reds, last night was by far Locke’s best start of the season. Against the Reds Locke allowed nine base runners and struck out just one batter. Also, Locke’s 5.91 FIP and 5.28 xFIP in that game were not good at all. Last night however, Locke posted a FIP of 1.41 and an xFIP of 1.92.
Jeff Locke’s overall numbers on the year are still not the prettiest. His ERA (5.03), FIP (5.16), and xFIP (4.85) are all still too high, but last night was a step in the right direction. Locke was also a ground ball machine last night generating ground balls at a 70% clip. Any time a pitcher keeps the ball on the ground and out of the air their chances for success go way up, especially at a park like Coors Field.
Another big difference for Locke last night was his change up. Last night Locke’s change up averaged 6.8 inches of vertical movement and 3.8 inches of horizontal movement. Also, Locke’s fastball command was the best it has been all season last night. Throughout the game Locke was doing a stellar job of spotting his fastball where Francisco Cervelli wanted it, and this contributed to him getting five of his eight strike outs looking.
Even though Locke got a big assist from home plate umpire Lance Barrett with his wide strike zone, Jeff was still able to throw 64 of his 106 pitches for strikes. This 60.4% strike rate was well above his season average of 51.4%. And any time a pitcher throws more strikes, regardless if that pitcher is Jeff Locke or Clayton Kershaw, they are going to be more successful.
Last night the Pirates desperately needed Jeff Locke to deliver a strong outing and he did just that. Jeff Locke, with an assist from A.J. Schugel, helped to give the majority of the Pirate bullpen a much-needed night off to rest and press reset. There are also things that Locke can build on from last night’s start such as his improved change up, and improved fastball command. Prior to last night’s game I said it might be do or die time for Jeff Locke, and the Redstone Rocket is not ready to let his career as a starting pitcher for the Pirates die just yet.
* – All stats and pitch data provided by Fangraphs