October 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates Jeff Locke separating himself from competition for rotation spot

With roughly three weeks left in spring training. there aren’t many remaining decisions that Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle must make as it pertains to the Opening Day roster.

One of those remaining competitions though is for the remaining spot in the starting rotation, but left-hander Jeff Locke is doing his best to make it  an easy decision for Hurdle.

Mar 6, 2013; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jeff Locke (49) throws in the first inning during a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In his third start of the spring Locke went four solid innings, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out three in Pittsburgh’s 9-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox Wednesday in Fort Myers at JetBlue Park.

If you are scoring at home, two of Locke’s three starts have been very good.

Locke threw  three scoreless innings in the Pirates Grapefruit League opener and followed that up by surrendering three runs in three innings, also in Fort Myers against the Red Sox.  But the fashion that Locke came back to turn in a good outing against the Red Sox says a lot about what he could be capable of if he were given a full big league season.

Wednesday’s outing wasn’t exactly against Boston’s regulars, but it was still encouraging nonetheless.

Locke didn’t have his best stuff and was behind in the count often. He also surrendered a few two-out hits along the way, but was able to make quality pitches along the way to get out of trouble.

“I was pretty happy with everything today,” Locke told MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo. “The only thing I wasn’t really happy with was getting two quick outs and stuff happened. Everything felt really good today. I can’t stress enough how much better it feels to come back here a week later and pitch better, regardless of who it’s against.”

If Locke turns in another couple of quality outings, he could put an end to the competition for the No. 5 starter spot before a battle really ever emerges, as right now the 25-year old has to be considered the front runner.

Others including Kyle McPherson are still in the mix, but to this point, Locke has outperformed any other candidates.

At the minimum he has Hurdle singing his praises, especially about the way that Locke was able to pitch out of tough situations.

“That was one of the bright spots for him today, because he was behind in the count while he was out there,” Hurdle told Mayo. “The fact that he made pitches, he stayed away from the big inning, they scratched him for the one run, no more damage than that, he went out there four times, it was a good step forward for him.

“He had a much better outing than the last time he was here. Everything was fresher, everything was a little cleaner with a better downhill angle, a better quality of strikes when he was throwing.”

Locke has been waiting for a shot to crack the Pirates rotation for some time now. If he keeps it up for another three weeks, that wait should be over.

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