PITTSBURGH — Jeff Locke allowed a pair of two-run home runs early, and the Pirates’ offense could not fully recover from the six runs that Locke allowed in his first four innings of work tonight, as Madison Bumgarner and the Giants defeated the Pirates 6-4.
The Giants were aggressive at the plate, and never allowed Locke to settle in. Giants’ Nori Aoki wasted little time leading off the game, pouncing on Locke’s second pitch and lining it into left field for a base hit. Locke then walked Matt Duffy on four-pitches, and after a groundout advanced the runners, Buster Posey hit a sacrifice fly to left, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. It looked as if Locke was going to be able to limit the damage as he got ahead 1-2 on Pirate-killer Marlon Byrd, but he hung a change-up, and Byrd crushed the ball into the left-field bleachers to give the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Locke continued to make mistakes in the second inning. Gregor Blanco slapped a double down the left-field line to lead-off the inning, and then Madison Bumgarner crushed a Locke center-cut fastball deep into the left-field seats, giving the Giants a daunting 5-1 lead, especially with the Giants’ ace on the mound.
“Too many mistakes over the plate,” Hurdle said as he assessed Locke’s night after tonight’s game. “Fastball location, breaking balls didn’t find their spots. He was getting first pitch strikes, 20 out of 26. He did retire 15 hitters in three pitches or less, but there were just too many mistakes over the plate early. They capitalized. They didn’t miss them.”
Once again, Locke was unable to pitch past the fifth inning, and gave up a career-high eleven hits, including five extra-base hits, and six earned runs.
“I never really got into any kind of groove,” Locke said after the game.
Locke has been inconsistent since closing the 1st half of the season in impressive fashion. He has a 5.13 ERA in the second half and has only completed six innings once in his last seven starts. In August, Locke is inducing soft contact at a season-low rate of 17%, and is inducing groundballs at only a 46% rate, also a season-low.
These post-All Star break struggles have become the norm throughout Locke’s career. His inconsistencies have prevented him from becoming anything more than a fifth starter.
** Locke put the Pirates’ offense behind the eight ball early in the game, however the offense was still able to put pressure on Bumgarner. He seemed to be without his best stuff in the first two innings, allowing six base runners in the first two innings. It looked as if the Pirates were going to knock Bumgarner from the game early, but were unable to break through with a big hit and plated just two runs in those first two frames.
The Pirates’ best opportunity came in the second inning, when Starling Marte came to the plate with the bases loaded and only one out. Bumgarner minimized the damage to a single run by inducing two straight groundouts by Marte and Andrew McCutchen.
Bumgarner settled in after that, retiring 14 straight batters, and keeping the Giants in control of the game throughout. The Pirates pulled within two runs and threatened again late in the game, but the rallies were killed by two groundball double plays.
** The Pirates middle-relief combination of Joe Blanton/Antonio Bastardo/Arquimedes Caminero continued to shine tonight, pitching four scoreless innings, striking out six batters and allowing only three base runners.
In the month of August, the trio has combined to pitch 37.2 innings, allowing only two earned runs and striking out 46 batters. These are numbers you’d expect from a stellar back-end of a bullpen, not a middle-relief core. This trio is proving to be a valuable weapon as the season heads towards the stretch run.
** The Pirates will attempt to take the series lead tomorrow, as they face Giants’ RHP Mike Leake. The Pirates have been unable to solve Leake this season, as he’s gone 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three starts against them
The Pirates’ will send Gerrit Cole to the mound and are hoping that he can get back on track. He has a 4.70 ERA in the month of August, and is winless in his last four starts.