July 27. 2013 3:12PM

No margin for error in Locke loss to Marlins

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

MIAMI - So often this season, Jeff Locke has worked out of trouble.

The Pirates' lefty, of Conway, N.H., entered Friday having stranded the highest percentage of base runners - 82 percent - among major league starters. Locke improved that rate, but it wasn't enough in a no-margin-for-error, 2-0 loss as the Pirates' offense struggled again, this time against the last-place Marlins.

With one out in the sixth, Locke walked Donovan Solano, allowed a sharp single to Marlins rookie and former New Hampshire Fisher Cat Jake Marisnick and walked catcher Jeff Mathis to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Placido Polanco followed by rolling a weak ground ball to third base to score Solano on an infield hit- the game's decisive hit.

Locke struck out a career-high nine but walked six and allowed eight hits. He stranded another 10 runners, allowing only two runs. It was a bizarre line in what has been a surreal season for Locke.

The dreamlike experience continued before the game when he was discussed as a Cy Young candidate on the visiting clubhouse televisions, which were tuned to MLB Network. Locke finished the night with a 2.15 ERA, still second in baseball among starters behind only Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

"I felt about the way it looked, kind of all over the place," Locke said. "I felt really good, it's just the command wasn't there."

Locke's success has been, in part, tied to another outlier: the 25-year-old entered the day allowing just a .147 batting average to right-handed batters on the road.

The number took a hit against Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who recorded two hits, including a soaring solo home run in the seventh. He turned on an 89 mph fastball that caught too much of the plate and sent it into the Clevelander club behind the left-field fence.

Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez, another former Fisher Cat, needed little help against a Pirates lineup that was again looking very much in need of a bat to be added prior to Wednesday's trade deadline.

Few Pirates had experience against Alvarez, who was a part of the Marlins' return in their sell-off trade with the Blue Jays this offseason. His sinking fastball reached 98 mph, and he allowed just two hits - a Jordy Mercer single and a bunt single to Starling Marte - over six innings. Alvarez allowed only three balls to leave the infield. He struck out five and walked one.

"His changeup had good sink," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "His two-seamer had good darting, late movement. He threw strikes. He was aggressive."

The Pirates entered 13th in the NL in runs scored and were shut out for the seventh time this season.

Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez had back-to-back hits with two outs in the ninth against Steve Cishek, but pinch hitter Jose Tabata grounded out to second to end the game. The Pirates combined for five hits.

Walks have become a growing concern with Locke. His walks-per-nine-innings rate has increased each of the past three months and crept over four after six free passes.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin was pulled in the seventh inning because of an injury to his left knee, which occurred in the second inning when Mathis collided with him in a play at the plate.

"I might have tweaked it a little bit ... but I don't have a severe injury that is going to put me on the disabled list," Martin said.

"The doctor checked it out and said it's really nothing extravagant. It's just a little tweak."

I've actually had something like this in the past and played with it."

It's a little uncomfortable, but it doesn't keep me from doing anything."