PITTSBURGH — Jeff Locke had a “frustrating” day on Thursday.
The Pirates’ left-hander had been cruising through a stretch of strong starts that started on April 25 in Denver, Colorado. That day, his ERA was 7.24. Over the next eight starts, Locke allowed more than three runs only twice. Three times he pitched seven innings, and in Miami on May 30, he threw a complete-game shutout.
When he took the hill in Denver again Thursday, his ERA had fallen to 4.28.
Just 4.2 innings and 11 runs later, much of that work has been undone, as his season-long mark now sits at 5.38. Locke wasn’t done in by the usual Coors Field boogeyman — he allowed only one home run. Instead, Locke allowed the bases to jam up with three doubles, a triple and three free passes. It was the kind of performance that usually gets a starting pitcher yanked in a hurry, but with the Pirates’ bullpen strapped to its maximum workload, manager Clint Hurdle elected to keep Locke throwing until he crossed the 100-pitch plateau.
“I had an idea that we were a little bit low yesterday in the bullpen,” Locke said. “For me, it didn’t really change anything. You always want to go deep into the game regardless. The situation obviously didn’t play out the way we hoped it would.”
Even after Locke gave up six runs over the first two innings, the Pirates battled back and brought the game to within one in the top of the fourth. But after the dodging the long ball early, Locke gave up a two-run shot by D.J. LeMahieu in the bottom of the fourth.
“I’ve never really been one that’s cared about myself over the team,” Locke said. “Once it was going the way it was going, at that point, you just have to go as far you can go, so that if things don’t go as planned today, we have guys that can pitch.”
What Locke sacrificed in ERA will hopefully benefit his team in the upcoming three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, which begins tonight when Gerrit Cole faces Michael Wacha. The back-end of the Pirates’ bullpen all got the day off, and Mark Melancon and Neftali Feliz got back-to-back down days after pulling double duty in Tuesday’s doubleheader. Locke’s effort in clearing their scheduled didn’t go unnoticed.
“We’ve all been starters at one point in time,” Jared Hughes said. “We know the feeling. It’s tough. He was put in a really tough travel situation, a day game in Colorado, where he had to eat a big chunk of the game. He held his head high and kept attacking the strike zone. He did a good job of getting through it. I hope he stays positive.”
That’s the wish of manager Clint Hurdle, as well. Hurdle made sure to let Locke know that he didn’t want one bad outing to knock him off track.
“That’s a place where you pay heavily for mistakes,” Hurdle said. “There’s too much good that’s happened in front of it to twist it too much.”
“Things had been going really well up to that point [and] that’s something that the skipper told me yesterday when he took me out,” Locke said. “At that time, you don’t want to hear anything, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Today is a new day.”
JUAN MORE START?
Juan Nicasio will be available out of the bullpen tonight, but the former reliever isn’t making a permanent move there just yet. He is expected to start Tuesday’s game against the Mets in New York.
With long men Cory Luebke and Kyle Lobstein, who combined to throw 3.2 innings in Denver, unavailable, Nicasio will be able to pitch in long relief in lieu of his usual between-starts bullpen session.
“It’s just one of those night that makes sense,” Hurdle said. “This is a position where we can use him and he has the experience to do it.”
Nicasio made 52 relief appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. He had a 3.83 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP out of the bullpen and earned one save.
If the Pirates recall Jameson Taillon after his 10-day waiting period in Triple-A, Tuesday’s start could be the last for Nicasio. He was unhittable for the first four innings of his start on Tuesday before running out of steam in the fifth. Nicasio will face Jacob deGrom on Tuesday.
Taillon is also scheduled to pitch on Tuesday in Indianapolis, per our Indianapolis writer, Brian Peloza. The Pirates would need someone to go on the disabled list before then to bring Taillon back up and have him start in place of Nicasio before his ten days are up.
Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make a start for the Indians on Tuesday, per pitching coach Stan Kyles. The team has Monday off.
— Brian Peloza (@BrianPeloza) June 10, 2016
The rest of the Mets series lines up like this: Locke will battle Bartolo Colon on Wednesday and Gerrit Cole will clash with Matt Harvey on Thursday.