8/7/2013 7:37 P.M. ET
Locke learning as league 'counter-punches'
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Because there is no such thing as a perfect world, not even one in which the Pirates own MLB's best record on Aug. 7, we offer these two sets of figures:
(A) 9-3, 2.37 ERA; 28 hits allowed in 20 innings.
(B) 8-2, 2.15 ERA; 28 hits allowed in 22 1/3 innings.
What do they denote? (A) is James McDonald's performance in the first half of last season, followed by his line in his first four starts coming out of the All-Star break. (B) is the same breakdown for Jeff Locke.
An interesting set of circumstances and perhaps unsettling, but no indication that history will repeat. The lefty Locke achieved his first-half success differently than McDonald, who overpowered hitters before the stuff vanished in the blink of an eye (likely affected by shoulder issues from which he is still trying to recover). Locke is a control pitcher, and it's his turn in the adjustment game with Major League hitters.
"It's part of the learning process, facing the different challenges that unfold in this part of the season," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Jeff is experiencing counter-punching from the league."
Locke counter-punched himself Tuesday night after the Marlins had jumped him for eight hits and three runs in two-plus innings. He blanked them on only one more hit over the next 3 2/3, after pitching coach Ray Searage visited the mound to tell him to pick up the pace.
"I'm somebody who needs to work quick on the mound," Locke said. "I'm a get-the-ball-and-go type of guy. Ray chirped at me, 'No thinking. You're going a little slow.' I agree; sometimes you have to take a step back and take a breath, but you don't want to give that guy too many seconds after that last pitch to figure out what might be coming next."
Jones struggling with throw to second base
PITTSBURGH -- Garrett Jones, as a first baseman, appears to have developed a slight case of the yips when he has to make a throw to second base.
The last few times Jones, a left-handed thrower, has had to make a peg to second, his throw has sailed about 10 feet to the left of the bag. The problem surfaced during the Pirates' late-July series in Washington, and it continued Tuesday night.
In the first inning, Jeff Locke picked Christian Yelich off first base -- however, Jones' throw hit second-base umpire Gary Cederstrom in the small of the back. Yelich was credited with a stolen base, and the play did not result in a run in a game the Bucs went on to win, 4-3.
"First base still isn't a comfortable position for him," manager Clint Hurdle said of Jones, who is originally an outfielder but has seen more Major League action at first (323 games) than in the outfield (287). "There's more footwork involved. The outfield footwork does seem more comfortable for him.
"He continues to go out early and work specifically on that throw. He's well-aware of it. It's just a matter of reps and confidence."
Alvarez proves to be polarizing slugger
PITTSBURGH -- It was a typical game of extremes for Pedro Alvarez. The National League's home run leader thrilled PNC Park fans Tuesday night with his legs instead, bolting out a game-tying RBI triple in the third inning. But in the eighth inning, with a chance to break the 3-3 tie with the Marlins, he took a called third strike with the bases loaded.
It's such swings of fortune, Clint Hurdle said, that make Alvarez one of the Majors' current bona fide sluggers. The operative word being "current."
"These sluggers do tend to be very polarizing. When they hit that ball, everyone loves that 450-foot home run," Hurdle said. "It electrifies people. When they don't do it, when they see them take a strike three with the bases loaded, that just electrocutes people. They go, 'How can he do that to us?'"
Hitters with Alvarez's style have come before -- Reggie Jackson was the prototype, and Hurdle could recall playing in Kansas City with someone from the same mold, Willie Mays Aikens.
The Pirates manager thinks resilience does make his third baseman unique.
"I love Pedro's style," Hurdle said. "He's very self-confident. He understands failure and how to deal with it. He believes in himself. If it doesn't happen one time, he believes he'll make it happen next time. His resiliency is one thing I've enjoyed watching."
• Wandy Rodriguez's Wednesday workout included some light tosses off a mound, and barring any setbacks, he is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session -- about 25 pitches' worth -- on Saturday in Denver.
• Andrew Lambo supporters piqued that 31 homers do not yet have him in the Bucs' clubhouse may not want to hear about Dick Stuart, who hit 66 homers for Lincoln in 1956. Stuart finally made it to the Pirates two years later.
First number, last word
31-4: Pirates' record at home, entering Wednesday's game, when Andrew McCutchen scores at least one run.
"I was looking for him to get on base. And he did -- he got on all four of them." -- Hurdle, on what he hoped for when choosing speedy Josh Harrison to pinch-hit leading off the ninth inning on Tuesday, and what he got, the walk-off homer that beat the Marlins, 4-3.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.