Notes and quotes from the Pirates postgame:
Locke disarms Phillies
Dominating never seems like the right way to describe a Jeff Locke gem. Instead of overpowering hitters, his game is based on keeping them relentlessly off balance and pounding the corners of the strike zone. Moreover, Locke's primary goal is to induce weak contact and looking strikes, instead of piling up swings and misses. When he is on, Locke doesn't dominate as much as he disarms.
Tonight Locke completely disarmed the Phillies over seven innings of work. He allowed only three hits and one run, while striking out nine (four looking), inducing 11 groundouts and one pop out. His 76 game score is his best of the season and comes on the heels of his worst (31) on Tuesday in St. Louis.
"He had, for me, his best performance of the season," Clint Hurdle said of Locke's start. "His fastball command was live, with good finish. His velocity was up. The changeup played, but the curveball was outstanding tonight ... fantastic outing."
Locke agreed that tonight was his best performance of the season.
"I'd say when it comes to throwing all three pitches for strikes, and being efficient with first pitch strikes, and getting ahead of the hitters, I'd say [Hurdle] hit it right on the head," Locke said. "I felt really in control most of the night."
Locke said that inducing groundouts like he did tonight is nearly as satisfying and racking up strikeouts.
"Absolutely, there are times you're out there and they are swinging early in the counts and they're putting the ball on the ground and guys are making plays behind you and that's definitely a comforting feeling," Locke said, specifically mentioning some of the fine plays Brent Morel made at third base tonight. "It gives you even more confidence on the mound too, when you know the defense is playing like that."
When Locke had finished the seventh inning, the Pirates held a narrow 2-1 lead. They scored four runs in the top half of the eighth to extend the lead, and then Hurdle turned to the bullpen for the final six outs. Afterwards, Hurdle said that even though Locke was only at 92 pitches he was not going to pitch the eighth regardless of the score.
"Based on what he's done, the volume of work, I felt it was in our best interest [to go to the bullpen]," Hurdle said.
Starling Marte continued his post-concussion offensive outburst, going 3-for-5 with a double and a two-run home run. Since returning from the concussion disabled list, Marte is now hitting .341/.401/.575.
"He's getting his foot down earlier and he's making good reads," Hurdle said of Marte's offensive approach the last few weeks. "He's not trying to jump anything. He's just trying to square up the fastball. He's letting the breaking balls travel, not chasing down, while getting some [pitches] that are up and putting good swings on them. He's been a very much improved offensive player since coming off the DL."
Marte credited working with hitting coach Jeff Branson on keeping his foot down for his recent success.
"I am more comfortable now because I see the ball [better]," Marte said of his approach.
Wild Card race
Both the Braves and Brewers lost, which puts the Pirates 1.5 games ahead for the second wild card spot. With Giants having the night off, the Bucs picked up a half game on them, closing the race for the first spot to three games.
"It's fun," Hurdle said of the race for postseason. "We were here last year and it's what you work hard for from the first day of spring training."
Four in a row
For the sixth time this season, the Pirates have won four games in a row. They have not had a winning streak longer than four games all year. Tomorrow, they will look to cross the four game barrier, as Edinson Volquez takes on David Buchanan. Volquez has allowed only one run in his last two starts.