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Pregame: Hurdle bullish on Pirates' offense; expresses confidence in Jeff Locke

Vincent Pugliese

Before the start of a four-game weekend series against the Atlanta Braves (which enter the series with the MLB's best team ERA, 1.77) Pirates manager Clint Hurdle expressed confidence in the offensive potential of his club.

"The lineup can be very, very good," Hurdle said. "We have the things you need to have."

Commenting on the strong pitching the Braves have received in the first two and half weeks of the season, Hurdle noted, "Right now they're in a good place because they've gotten out of the blocks clean." But, he said, "They don't have a guy we can't beat."

Finally, the Pirates' manager said that the organization believes tonight's starter, Jeff Locke, has staying power with the big league club, but that this is a critical stretch of games for Locke and the other starters on the team. "Our guys know the clock's ticking. We have a guy going three innings tonight. Morton's going three in Bradenton. Liriano just jumped to Double A ... he could be three starts and ready."

Here are some extended excerpts from this afternoon's media scrum:

How good can this lineup be?

You'd love to get all the plates spinning at one time. And last year we did that for a couple months. ... Offense can be very, very good. We can beat you a number of ways. We've got a combination of power and speed which, in today's game, plays very well. Isn't it amazing what difference a week makes? We come off the road trip and wonder if we're going to hit. You know. Seriously. Tough times in L.A.. Caught a little spark in Arizona, well, we got the Reds, that's a good rotation, we were able to battle through that and do some things. ... We came out and saw a good pitcher last night, scratched one early then add-on late, another good sign for our offense. But we have the things you need to have, the weapons you need to have to be way more consistent, obviously, then we were in the first week. And I really believe we will be.

What makes the Braves pitching staff so good?

Well, their team ERA won't be 1.80 at the end of the year. They're going to have a down period. They are going to have a time when they talk about getting more innings out of their starters; how to put something together in the bullpen. It's the way the game goes. ... Right now they're in a good place because they've gotten out of the blocks clean, collectively. And they're missing a major piece at the back end in Venters, but they still got other guys out there that are fitting in. Their bullpen work has been clean and efficient. ... You look at the overall stuff. It's been a combination of making good pitches and the teams they've been playing missing pitches to hit.

But, there isn't one guy there we can't beat. They don't have a guy over there we can't beat. So that's kind of the way we look at it.

Does Jeff Locke have staying power?

We believe he does. They believed he did when they made the trade a few years ago. He has continued to grow on people as you watch him develop. He has even transformed his body. He is leaner, he is stronger. The velocity's picked up since we first got him. His overall awareness, I remember when he first came up in 2011 at the end of the season what he knew about baseball compared to where he is now, mindful of what goes on in game off the mound with the catcher respective to lineups. He is in a good place.

Our guys do know there's a clock ticking. We got another guy going three tonight. Morton's going three in Bradenton. Liriano's just jumped to Double A. He'll be up. He is going to be extending his pitch count. He could be three starts are ready. Charlie could be four and ready. Karstens will probably throw a ‘pen here sooner than later. ... We got guys coming. Not, so to speak the cavalry, cause we'll have to see how they get, but we believe Morton still could be an impactful guy, we definitely believe Liriano could be impactful.