Jul 31, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Why the Bucs should be concerned with Jeff Locke

For most of the 2013 season, Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke has been pitching like an ace, evident by the 2.15 ERA he headed into the All-Star break with, enough to earn him his first career All-Star selection.

But as Pirates fans saw with James McDonald a season ago, Locke is finding it very difficult to put together two solid halves of the season. His struggles since the All-Star break should have the Pirates very worried.

Aug 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) wipes his face in the dugout after being removed in the third inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at PNC Park. The Arizona Diamondbacks won 15-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The funny thing about Locke’s second half struggles is the fact that he came out of the break pitching very well.

Locke allowed only one hit and one earned run through six innings in a July 21 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and allowed eight hits and only two earned runs July 26 in a loss to the Marlins.

But it has been all downhill since then.

In his last four starts, culminating with getting pounded for eight earned runs and 10 hits in Saturday’s 15-5 loss to the Diamondbacks, Locke has combined to throw only 18 innings in which he has allowed 32 hits, 17 earned runs, walked 11 and struck out only 14.

If you are scoring at home that amounts to an 8.50 ERA and 2.39 WHIP through his last four outings.

So what’s been the reason for Locke’s slide? It’s mostly the case of the league catching up to him.

No one in their right mind would have predicted Locke to pitch the way he did in the first half of the season. Analytical experts frequently predicted that Locke’s ERA should double in the second half of the season and we have certainly seen that type of swoon from him.

It’s also Locke’s first full season in the majors, which means there were likely to be some ups and downs throughout. This is nothing that he shouldn’t be able to work himself through.

A lot of people like to complain about the amount of batters Locke has walked this season (68 through 139.2 innings). While that number is slightly high at 2.83 batters per start, it really doesn’t bother me too much. Locke was pitching just fine earlier when he had a slightly-high walk rate. The difference now is that he is being hit hard in between those walks. That’s something that didn’t happen earlier and needs to be corrected soon.

There’s a good chance that Locke is simply wearing down at this point of the season. It happens to young pitchers and this being Locke’s first full season in the big leagues; he could be getting fatigued both physically and mentally.

The good news all around is that all of Locke’s struggles as of late are things that can be fixed. For the Pirates’ sake they better hope Locke gets them fixed rather soon.

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