In most ways, Jeff Locke is just like almost any other major league pitcher: If his fastball command is off, than he has to find a way to compensate. And when he has to compensate, he’s likely to pay the price.
Today, Locke paid the price. No, he didn’t struggle tremendously. Despite constantly missing his fastball to the glove side, Locke was able to fight his way through 5.1 innings, walking three and surrendering six hits and three earned runs.
Still, Locke left a changeup over the plate in 3rd — possibly a result of poor command — and was punished with a two run homer to Javier Baez. The Cubs scored another that inning via a Chris Valaika ground out double play, and the Pirates were left to fight back the rest of the game. They did fight back with three runs in the 8th, though it wasn’t enough, as they lost 6-4.
“[Locke] didn’t have his all around best stuff today, but he made one pitch, one mistake to Baez, and he hit it over the fence,” Russell Martin said. “Other than that he was really good.”
It could have been much worse, as Locke often got behind in counts, though the Cubs didn’t take advantage.
“It took him a while to get his secondary pitches in play,” Clint Hurdle said. “Just missing with his fastball to the glove side, which got him underneath some counts. First pitch strikes were down, 10 out of 25, so he’s pitching underneath counts quite a bit out there.”
On the night, Locke threw his fastball 48 times and 62.5% of the time for strikes. With the fastball command lacking, he threw the changeup 23 times, and the curveball 27 times, throwing strikes on each pitch 56.5% and 63% of the time, respectively.
It was a stark contrast from his seven innings, one earned run, and nine-strikeout performance in his last start against the Phillies. In that start, Locke threw his fastball 52 times, 78.8% of the time for strikes. His breaking stuff was tighter as well, throwing the changeup 19 times, 68.4% for strikes, and the curveball 21 times, 61.9% for strikes. His fastball velocity was up too, 92.7 mph average velocity versus 91.7 mph average velocity today.
“His secondary pitches have played better for him at times,” Hurdle said. “When you throw changeup and get a strike, throw curveball and get a strike. If you’d seen his last outing, he had command of three pitches. When he missed with the fastball he was able to come back.”
“Didn’t have the same command glove side with the fastball that he did in Philly,” Martin added. “Velocity wasn’t quite as firm as in Philly.”
When his fastball command is off, Locke has little recourse. Though his changeup has been effective for him this year, it’s not nearly enough to make up for his fastball.
“Fastball’s an important pitch, so you keep mixing it up,” Martin said. “You can’t eliminate the fastball no matter how bad the command is.”
Nothing changed for Locke from his last start to today’s start. Locke said he feels the same and the only thing that changed were the results. When the result is poor command, though, there’s nothing that Locke can do except battle and hope for the best.