Apr 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the sixth inning at Busch Stadium. Pittsburgh defeated St. Louis 9-0. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Does Jeff Locke belong in the Bucs rotation the rest of the year?

Reinforcements are on their way for the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation as both Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are performing well in rehab stints and will be rejoining the big club sometime in the near future.

But when they come, someone has to go.

Apr 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the first inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Sanchez is a lock to be gone, a move that can’t come soon enough. But who will be the other pitcher to leave the rotation when the Bucs are completely healthy?

The smart money would be on youngster Jeff Locke, but his performances as of late say one thing- don’t be so fast to make that assumption.

Locke has performed very well during the early parts of this young season and has the numbers to warrant a spot in the back of the Bucs’ rotation. He’s sitting at 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched, while the league is only hitting .228 against him.

He struggled initially out of the gate, but Locke is currently riding a streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings in which he has allowed only five hits and four walks.

If Locke is throwing strikes, I like what he brings to the back end of the rotation.

The kid battles and doesn’t give in to hitters. I feel having the likes of A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez around is having a positive impact on Locke, exactly like it should. Give Russell Martin a hat tip as well for Locke’s recent success as well as Martin has had a positive impact on just about every Pirates’ pitcher.

When Liriano and Morton return, I think Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle is going to have a tough decision on his hands with Locke.

If he continues to pitch well, it puts a lot of pressure on James McDonald to perform well.

While it is less likely that Hurdle removes McDonald from the rotation, he simply has to stick with the guys who produce the best results. Given all seven or eight options that Hurdle will have to look at, you would be hard pressed to say that Locke isn’t one of the five best options right now.

Of course if he doesn’t keep pitching well, then Hurdle’s decision will be easy.

But if Locke keeps turning in quality starts, you can certainly make the case that he belongs in this rotation for the long haul.

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Tags: Charlie Morton Francisco Liriano James McDonald Jeff Locke Pittsburgh Pirates

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