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Conway's Locke gets aggressive, earns second win
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) is shown on the field before playing the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on Sunday. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Like a golfer who plays the course in his mind on the driving range, the New Hampshire native simulated potential matchups against the lineups the Philadelphia Phillies sometimes use against left-handers.
"You've got to remember, too, it's just a bullpen (session)," Locke, a graduate of Kennett High in Conway and two-time New Hampshire Union Leader high school player of the year, said after pitching six scoreless innings in a 2-0 win against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. "That's something I get caught up in sometimes. I've just got to keep staying aggressive down there and keep working."
Locke (2-1) was aggressive Tuesday, and it showed. In the game, Locke eliminated two issues that had plagued him in his past two starts. He did not allow a home run, and he limited his walks. He credited improved command and belief in his pitches with helping him limit the walks and homers.
"There's been times this season where the conviction hasn't been there on pitches here and there," he said. "Tonight, it was 100 percent conviction - all pitches, everything's great."
"The key for him tonight, though - the best he's ever done - he threw the most competitive pitches he's ever thrown in a start," manager Clint Hurdle said.
"Many of the times we've seen them, they're balls right out of his hand. Tonight, (the Phillies) had to take looks; only a handful of balls out of his hand were misfired."
The win evened the four-game series at a game apiece. The Pirates have won four of their past five games.
In his previous start against Atlanta, Locke allowed three home runs and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. He walked eight batters in 9 2/3 innings in his past two starts.
"This park, it's 27 shots on goal," Hurdle said. "You can reach anywhere.
"We needed a show-up start tonight, and Jeff gave it to us."
Locke worked with men on base all night. He walked Michael Young and allowed a double to Ryan Howard in the first inning, but stranded them. Starling Marte dropped a ball off the bat of Ben Revere, and Locke walked Erik Kratz to put two men on in the second, but he struck out Jimmy Rollins to end the inning.
"That's his best big-league performance," Hurdle said. "By far, it was just really good. He had to battle, he had to compete, he had to get out of a jam."
Locke pitched a clean third. He increased the degree of difficulty in the fourth but kept the Phillies scoreless. John Mayberry Jr. roped a ball to the right-field corner that Jose Tabata did not field cleanly, resulting in a triple. Locke then hit Domonic Brown. Revere grounded to third, but Mayberry broke for home and was out at the plate. Kratz grounded into a double play to end the inning, and the 31,002 at Citizens Bank Park booed.
"In the fourth, the leadoff triple, and to get out of that, he made pitches," Hurdle said. "He flat-out made pitches."
The Pirates had a man in scoring position each of the first three innings but could not capitalize. They did in the fourth when Brandon Inge, who joined the team after starting the season on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, doubled to score Neil Walker.
Tony Watson pitched a perfect seventh inning in relief of Locke. Singles by Laynce Nix and Michael Young off Mark Melancon brought Howard to the plate in the eighth, but he grounded out to end the inning. Jason Grilli earned his eighth save.
Locke dueled left-hander Cole Hamels, who didn't allow much to the Pirates. Inge's double provided the only run until the eighth, when Gaby Sanchez homered to right field to extend the lead to 2-0.
"We needed it," Locke said of the win. "(Monday) night was a tough one. To come back out and put the pressure back on them, I'm really glad we won."