7/28/2013 12:11 A.M. ET
All-Star Locke 'not satisfied' in breakout season
By Joe Morgan / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Little has gone wrong for left-hander Jeff Locke in this breakout season. The All-Star southpaw has been more than good. He has been elite.
The 25-year-old hurler entered Saturday ranked third in the Majors with a 2.15 ERA, and his 12 quality starts are the best total in a Pirates starting rotation that leads the National League with a 3.21 ERA.
Locke's numbers have impressed Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, but the skipper is more enthused by Locke's approach.
"His preparation, his focus, his command, there's more in front of him," Hurdle said. "He's not satisfied."
Perhaps chief among Locke's strengths is his consistency.
Although Locke was not at his best in Friday night's 2-0 loss to the Marlins, he gave up three earned runs or fewer for a 17th consecutive outing and notched his fourth straight quality start on the road.
While talented, few expected Locke to enjoy a breakout year in his first full MLB season. Hurdle was blunt when asked what he thought of remaining doubts lingering around Locke.
"The critics probably didn't have him on the team," Hurdle said. "And they sure didn't have him winning nine games. So why not throw it out there that the second half won't be as good? Sooner or later, they might be right about something.
"I don't think many people had him making the All-Star team. I didn't. He's done things that I think only, at the end of the day, he believed he could get to. He's kept [critics] quiet, and he keeps doing it."
Critics may become louder if Locke endures more nights like his one on Friday. He gave up a season-high-tying eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, and his six walks were one shy of his season-worst total.
He threw first-pitch balls to 13 batters on Friday night, including four straight to begin the sixth. Opposing batters reach base against Locke at a .396 clip when beginning with a 1-0 count, compared to a .195 OBP when he throws a first-pitch strike.
"He pitches on edges at times," Hurdle said. "It's not uncommon for him to get some three-ball counts, and they got away from him [Friday]."
But when Locke puts guys on base, he usually strands them. Miami was just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base against Locke.
Opponents are batting only .122 (9-for-74) against Locke with runners in scoring position. With men on base, Locke holds batters to a .193 (31-for-161) clip.
Walks have been an issue for Locke, whose 4.22 per nine innings are the most among Pirates pitchers with seven starts or more. Although Locke has minimized damage with men on base, he acknowledges his walk rate could spell trouble down the road.
Especially on nights when he is allowing more than his rotation-best rate of only 6.29 hits per nine innings.
"It's obviously something you'd like to command better," Locke said. "At the same time, I haven't really been giving up a whole lot of hits either. Whether they're walks or they're hits, they never really show up on the same night, but [Friday] they did."
Hurdle attributes Locke's walk rate to the fact that opposing batters have learned more about the left-hander, resulting in increased plate discipline.
However, considering the stellar season Locke is enjoying, Hurdle believes experience is the answer to Locke establishing better control moving forward.
"He set the bar extremely high early, and I still don't see him as a finished product," Hurdle said. "He's going to grow and learn and get better. And I expect those walk numbers will go down as he continues to pitch."
Pirates keep options open in tight trade market
MIAMI -- July 31 has been a busy day for the Pirates in recent years. With the club fighting for its first playoff berth since 1992, general manager Neal Huntington could make yet another Trade Deadline move in 2013.
Acquiring a power-hitting right fielder would benefit Pittsburgh, but the expanded Wild Card race resulted in a tight trade market with reduced available options.
"This extra Wild Card has really become challenging," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "As much benefit comes with it, it's also a time of year where there are some problems that can come with it because you're not out.
"There's a number of teams off the top of my head that I can envision, four or five, that yeah, that's a tough position to be in right now."
Pittsburgh has decided to be a buyer during the past two seasons, pulling off deals at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline each year. The Bucs acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick in 2011, and dealt for Gaby Sanchez and Chad Qualls in 2012.
While Lee, Ludwick and Qualls each left Pittsburgh once the season ended, Sanchez is a player under team control for several years.
"We've been active the last two years, and we've gone different ways the last two years, so it's not like we're going one certain way," Hurdle said. "We've gone the way of the rental player. We've gone controllable players. So we're going to keep our options open and stay involved in discussions. We could take this thing right down to the wire."
Huntington is exploring options and has consulted with Hurdle on what kind of players would benefit the Pirates in the National League Central and Wild Card races. Hurdle said the process is constantly evolving.
"We had a list of names, we were working off a sheet, he had me prioritize and we just continue to progress from off of that," Hurdle said. "Other names outside that circumference might jump up from time.
"Sometimes, you're looking to create trades, maybe it's a two-way deal. Sometimes, a three-way deal. You can get a little more creative and ask questions about guys that weren't on the original map that was laid out for you."
Although what the Pirates potentially do as the Trade Deadline looms remains unclear, Pittsburgh is clear in its approach to seek the help it needs for an October push.
"We know who we are, what we are, what limitations we have, what opportunities we have," Hurdle said. "There's no pipe dreams."
McKenry injures knee late in career game
MIAMI -- Backup catcher Michael McKenry tweaked his left knee while sliding into second base in Saturday's 7-4 win against the Marlins. The Pirates will have to wait until Sunday to determine how McKenry feels.
"It's just kind of stuck," McKenry said. "Best way to put it."
The injury occurred on a Jordy Mercer forceout during the seventh inning. McKenry, who was starting in place of Russell Martin, remained in the game.
"I was just trying to take out the guy at second base," McKenry said. "He went back, so last-minute slide. Just hit it pretty good. It was my left knee."
Martin sat out Saturday's game after tweaking his left knee in a home-plate collision on Friday. McKenry finished with a career-high four hits and made a run-saving catch on a would-be wild pitch from Charlie Morton in fifth inning of the victory at Marlins Park.
Martin was already expected to start Sunday's game before McKenry's injury.
Wandy feeling good after long-toss sessions
MIAMI -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Wandy Rodriguez was "encouraged" after making two sets of 70 long tosses from 80-90 feet on Friday. Rodriguez was scheduled to do two sets of 60 long tosses from the same distance on Saturday.
"There's been good improvement," Hurdle said. "He felt very good after yesterday's throwing program."
If Saturday's throwing program goes well, Hurdle said Rodriguez could have Sunday off. The manager said the team could potentially design a new plan for Rodriguez on Monday.
"Whether that includes mound work or not, I don't know yet," Hurdle said. "We have him throwing back-to-back days. That's pretty good progressive activity. We'll see where he shows up when we get home."
Martin expected to be back behind plate Sunday
MIAMI -- Russell Martin is expected to play Sunday after he tweaked his left knee in a collision at home plate on Friday night. Michael McKenry started at catcher and batted sixth on Saturday.
"The plan is to see how he feels," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Martin. "But we plan on playing him [Sunday]."
Martin said Friday night he has played with a similar ailment before and that he felt fine. The catcher said the tweak will not restrict him physically.
"It's a little uncomfortable, but it doesn't keep me from doing anything physical," Martin said. "I can run. I can jump. I can do whatever."
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.