Jeff Locke Solid Again as Pirates Power Past Angels

PITTSBURGH – The Pirates returned to their core approach — putting runners on base and getting extra-base hits — en route to an 8-7 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this afternoon at PNC Park. The win was their second in the last eight games, and snapped a four-game losing streak.

Each Pirates position player reached base at least once. Starling Marte and Jung-ho Kang led the way, going a combined 4-for-7 with three extra base hits, a single, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch. Kang homered into the visiting bullpen in the second inning, and in the seventh inning, both Gregory Polanco and pinch hitter Matt Joyce hit home runs to help the Pirates push their lead to 8-3.

Jeff Locke pitched well following his career-best start in Miami earlier this week, going seven innings and surrendering three runs while throwing only 82 pitches. While Locke only managed two strikeouts, he did not issue a walk. It marks the first time in his career in which he has done that in consecutive starts.

“I think we just moved the ball around well today,” said Locke, noting that his efficiency has been good recently as well. “We’re not doing things a whole lot different, but now it’s a 1-2 pitch instead of a 2-1 pitch.”

Locke worked exclusively with his fastball and changeup today, throwing a lone breaking ball to Mike Trout. His approach focused on playing to the aggressiveness of the Angels’ lineup, attacking both sides of the plate and hoping for good luck on balls in play.

Tony Watson had another difficult outing, allowing four earned runs in the eighth inning to put the Angels back in the game. Neftali Feliz came on in relief of Watson but struggled to put out the fire, allowing an RBI double to Carlos Perez before getting pinch hitter Jefry Marte to fly out to left field to end the inning.

Mark Melancon came on in the ninth inning to pitch a clean inning and earn his 17th save, getting two ground ball outs around a liner to Josh Harrison.

JOYCE KEEPS HITTING

Matt Joyce’s seventh inning home run, which landed in the center field shrubbery, was his fourth as a pinch hitter this season, and sixth overall. Joyce is now hitting .333/.465/.681, with more walks (16) than strikeouts (15) in 86 plate appearances.

His home run this afternoon came off a 1-2 fastball from Angels’ lefty specialist Greg Mahle, who mixes in a sidearm delivery to confuse hitters.

“You’re just trying to stay with him, and see if he’s going to drop down or not,” Joyce said about his approach to the at-bat. “I’m looking for something up and out over the plate. I felt like I saw the sliders pretty well, and he made a mistake with two strikes.”

Joyce credits his preparation for his success this season, including studying opposing pitchers and hitting against the pitching machine during games. For Joyce, the success he’s having is a continuation of a process that began with work during the off-season, both before and during the Dominican Winter League.

“A guy goes down to play winter ball these days, I’m definitely going to take two looks at him,” Hurdle said after the game when asked whether the team was scouting Joyce in the Dominican over the off-season. The Pirates were impressed with his commitment to getting his game back on track, both in advance of league play and during the winter season.

When asked about Joyce’s success as a pinch hitter this season, Hurdle mentioned Rusty Staub — known during his time in Montreal as “Le Grand Orange” — who had some strong seasons at the end of his career working primarily as a replacement hitter. Hurdle and Staub were both with the New York Mets in 1983 when Staub hit .296/.372/.481 (153 OPS+) in 94 plate appearances as a pinch hitter.

Joyce knows that it will be difficult to crack the starting lineup in what should continue to be a very high-performing Pirates outfield this season, but he’s making the most of what opportunities he does get. Through only two months, he is fast approaching franchise records for HR (7 by Craig Wilson) and RBI (16 by Willie Stargell) by a pinch hitter in a single season.

OTHER NOTES

  • Starling Marte was on base four times today to push his season line to .308/.387/.559 (137 wRC+). He and Gregory Polanco (152 wRC+) are both making strong cases to appear in the All-Star game next month. Polanco hit his ninth homer of the year tonight.
  • Jung-ho Kang’s eighth home run pushed his slugging percentage to .662 and his ISO (isolated power) to an absurd .390, which only David Ortiz (.401) can beat among players with at least 80 plate appearances.

  • Right now Cutch is a total mess. He either strikes out, grounds out to short or hits a pop up. That error in the 8th inning was as bad as you will ever see. For weeks now he has been swinging and missing at pitches right down the middle. There is something seriously wrong going on with him right now.

    • This. Maybe he needs a DL stint…

    • Cutch has done nothing but try to muscle everything as far as he can hit it. This is not the way he became a star, but for some reason he has been swinging for the fences since spring training.

  • Joyce has to see more ABs than Cutch? really? I am following the Pirates from Australia and even from here that is a suggestion that can’t be taken seriously. Over the course of the season, Cutch will excel, without doubt. Has Joyce played well, maybe beyond expectations? Yep and they should be looking to get him ABs. But do you really even think about taking Marte or Polanco out except for a short 1 day break> Nope. Hopefully they won’t be so far out of things by the time Taillon comes up that their only hope is the WC. Starting to look that way though! Even though Maddon s a jerk, Cubs have played brilliantly so far.

    • You are right about Maddon. Cannot stand him either. One thing that bothers me though, Maddon sees all of the talent in Chicago and they make him look like a genius. I would like to see the Larussos, Giradis and Mathenys coach the Pirates teams during the 21 years of loosing. You have to have talent first and then coach. By the way, how are the Yankees and Cardinals doing now? I will tell you, no talent and old players.

      • If Hurdle would leave, I would take Maddon in a heart beat as my manager.

        • If Hurdle ever left and they hired Maddon, I’d turn in my fan card immediately.

          Plantar Fasciatis.

        • I agree too Lee. We all hate a very good coach, player because they are on a different team (See Tom Brady as an example), but if they ever signed with one of our favorite teams, we are all for it.
          By the way, I could see Maddon wanting to come to Pittsburgh BECAUSE, LOOK AT THE TALENT FOR YEARS THAT THE PIRATES HAVE COMING UP. 🙂

    • Over the course of the season, Cutch will excel, without doubt.

      AussieArriba….I’m starting to HAVE some doubt.

      • Lots of folks are doubting and wondering why. I said then and continue to say it, moving ‘Cutch out of the #3 spot in the order was stupid.

        Here’s some guys who are #3 hitters – Bryant, Goldschmidt, Braun, Franco, Trout, Cabrera, Frazier, Yelich, Harper, Machado, Votto/Phillips, Beltran, Lindor, Cano, Freeman, Arenado, and Kemp. It is not just another slot in the order – baseball teams are built around the #3 hitter, which is usually a team’s best combination of power and speed.

        How many of them do you usually see in the MVP competition every year?

        • It has nothing to do with the 3 hole

        • Not hitting in the 3 hole isn’t his problem. Bat speed, pitch recognition, and horrible swinging strike numbers are his problem. Those aren’t solved by moving him down a spot. Cutch has serious issues right now…

        • Might as well attribute his struggles to cutting his hair…I mean he’s cut his hair and now had a season and a 3rd of disappointing (for him) numbers…may be he should start regrowing….

  • At some point soon, Joyce has to start seeing more ABs than Cutch. Right now #22 is the fourth best outfielder on the team (and that’s because I refuse to believe this Sean Rodriguez is for real). Marte also seems to up his game when he’s in center field… and he’s already doing pretty alright for himself.

    • ImmortalStyle
      June 5, 2016 1:46 am

      “At some point soon, Joyce has to start seeing more ABs than Cutch.”

      Not sure if serious.

  • BallHeadWonder
    June 5, 2016 12:13 am

    Amazing things happen when 3 AAA Pitchers are knocking on the doors of PNC Park!! Jeff may be watching film of Sandy Koufax or Nap Rucker to pull some greatness out of him!!

    Just disappointed in how we are playing as a team!! Cutch is having a bad season!! This is past a slow start. His body language is bad, he swings recklessly at bad pitches, he’s not focus out in the field. Unexcusable error today on a ball he has fielded a zillion times!! I continue to say this….something outside of baseball has his mind occupied!!! I know he got married and that is an adjustment, but Cutch is a professional and I know something like that he could handle. But then again, I ain’t in the man’s home. But something ain’t right off the field.

    • Andrew McCutchen has been swinging for the fences all year. He started spring training doing that and he hasn’t stopped yet, He was way better when he just tried to line doubles and triples that rolled to the wall. Now he is trying to muscle everything. He has Gabby Sanchez disease.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 5, 2016 12:10 am

    Joyce has been a great addition – and I was happy when the Pirates picked him up. He was always a solid player in Tampa Bay, not sure what happened to him with the Angels.

  • Ortiz is absurd at 41 is it? Whatever the guy is amazing.
    As is Kang coming off injured to this? Wow are we lucky to have him locked up. Extension anyone?

  • Locke has turned it around subtlety and brilliantly. He’s clearly, and sadly, the #2 on the team right now.

    I’m guessing Nicasio goes to the pen for Taillon next week and Liriano has a mysterious quadriceps/groin injury shortly thereafter that allows the Pirates to bring up Kuhl.

    The Pirates broke the draft. Now they’re about to break the DL

  • Who would have thought that Locke would be the Pirates best pitcher.

  • Jeff Rhodes
    June 4, 2016 10:15 pm

    I’m wondering why Joyce isn’t starting with McCutchen doing the pinch hitting.

  • If I’m Terry Collins, I’m going to take a serious look at Kang as one of my ASG subs. He’s top 10 in NL in WRC+. By the time the ASG rolls around he may have a WAR of 2+. After Bryant and Arenado, it’s not a particular strong group of 3b and Kang is definitely doing better than Carpenter.

    It’s going to be tough getting Marte into the ASG. I’d consider Polanco a lock for a sub, but figuring Harper, Fowler and Cespedes as the starters, you’ve still got Braun (ugh), Yelich and Ozuna who are all currently deserving. The compromise is probably only one Pirate and one Marlin.

  • And Locke solidifies his status as #2 by default. Niese would be 3 with Liriano staying in rotation only due to potential. We need Nicasios 2 pitchs desperatly in BP. I say Kuhl up for 1 start then unless sterling JT comes up 1 start, then Glasnow etc. 3 stars of future get taste of bigs and no one pushes supertwo button. In july we then know alot more about how our second haf rotation should look.

    • Jeff Locke is very happy just to still be in the picture for the Rotation, and building up a lot of value for when the Pirates have to decide to either send him to the BP or put his name out for a possible trade.

      I think the Pirates will bring up both Taillon and Kuhl in June. Taillon will get his first start in front of the home crowd on Jun 9, 10, or 11. Then the Bucs go on a road trip and when they come back, Kuhl will be called up and get his first start at PNC. Liriano stays in the Rotation unless injured. Taillon will bump Nicasio, and Kuhl will bump either Niese or Locke, and both have trade value.

      • I’m not convinced Niese and Locke get bumped before Liriano does. I’m confident some injury will be found and Frankie will be headed to the DL. He’s worse than Nicasio at the moment. 13 walks in last 15 innings. He has a WHIP of 1.99 over last five starts.

        • Nicasio isnt that bad. Id take him over any starter for the Braves including Teheran.

        • An injury or soreness could very well be either a primary or secondary reason for his ineffectiveness, and the lack of confidence Stewart alluded to after his last start. But, short of going on the DL or a trade, he is going to continue in the #2 spot in the Rotation this year and next year for 13.6 million reasons.

          Some other considerations with LHSP’s like Niese and Locke – can Brault or Waddell be as good or better, and when can they be ready to step up?

          • Brault is out for 4 more weeks and Waddell is likely staying in AA for the rest of the year

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