A big key to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chances of continuing their success of the 2013 season is the starting pitching staff, one that 2013 All-Star Jeff Locke needs to play a big role in.
With A.J. Burnett now in Philadelphia and a few question marks surrounding the Bucs current starters, a rebound from Locke can go a long way to the Pirates competing for a second consecutive trip to the postseason.
Over his first 18 starts, Locke was outstanding, going 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP and was named to the National League All-Star team.
However, the southpaw won just two of his final 12 starts with an ERA of 6.12, and his WHIP growing to 1.87.
Many forget that Locke hurt his back lifting weights prior to the All-Star break, which prevented him from pitching in the game. Who knows if that played a role in his struggles down the stretch that saw Locke demoted to the minors in the middle of a playoff chase, but Locke returning to form could solve a lot of potential problems in 2014.
For Locke to do that, he has to start finding the plate more consistently, as the left-hander posted a very high walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings.
If that improves, there is still a lot to like about Locke.
Despite his second half struggles, Locke’s 1.23 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was second-best in the league, and he had a solid rate of 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
For Locke it is all a matter of finding the plate, a similar problem that Edinson Volquez must get figured out before the season begins.
Coincidentally, it is Locke and Volquez who are likely competing for the final spot in the Pirates rotation.
Whether he makes the team coming out of camp or is auditioned for a trade is almost irrelevant. With all the injuries teams see to their pitching staffs during the season, Locke is going to get the opportunity to contribute this season.
If he takes advantage of that opportunity and reverts back to form, Locke still has the opportunity to play a major role in the Pirates’ potential success in 2014.