July 31, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Locke Falters, Defense Sloppy In Pittsburgh Pirates' Loss To Arizona

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a playoff race, but they haven’t played playoff-quality baseball over the past two days.

A little more than 24 hours after a horrendous baserunning error cost them a game in San Francisco, the Pirates had a critical fielding play go awry Thursday night at Phoenix’s Chase Field. That miscue, plus a sixth-inning fade from starting pitcher Jeff Locke, consigned the Bucs to a 7-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

With its second consecutive defeat, Pittsburgh (57-51) fell a half-game behind St. Louis for second place in the National League Central and also slipped out of a tie with Atlanta for the final wild card spot. The Pirates now trail division-leading Milwaukee by 2 1/2 games.

It easily could’ve been a different case, as Russell Martin‘s two-run double in the second inning had the Pirates up 2-0 on starter Josh Collmenter and the Diamondbacks (48-61). Locke retired the first eight batters he faced despite struggling with his location, then presevered his early shutout by striking out the dangerous Paul Goldschmidt with the bases loaded in the third.

However, the left-handed Locke couldn’t overcome poor infield defense in the bottom of the fourth. Arizona loaded the bases again, this time with one out. Locke induced Nick Ahmed to pop out to shallow right field, so only Collmenter was between the Pirates and another escape.

The light-hitting pitcher bounced to third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who has battled throwing errors to the point of being benched frequently. His toss to first was low and to the outfield side of first base, where Ike Davis couldn’t make the reaching grab.

The ball bounced softly into foul territory, allowing two runs to score. Since the throw never hit the dirt, the error was charged to Davis, although the throw from Alvarez surely could’ve been better, too.

Jordan Pacheco cashed in the Diamondbacks’ go-ahead run in the fifth with a two-out single to left, but Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker countered with a towering home run to right-center in the sixth that tied the game and sent Collmenter to the showers.

Later in the inning, the Pirates put two on with two out against former Bucs pitcher Oliver Perez, only to have Jordy Mercer‘s promising long fly to center fall into the glove of Arizona’s Ender Inciarte.

Clint Hurdle sent Locke back out in the sixth, but the second-year Bucco didn’t reward his manager’s confidence. After Ahmed singled to lead off, journeyman Andy Marte lofted a two-run shot to left field off a high Locke changeup, putting the home team ahead for good. Aaron Hill tacked on a solo dinger to make it 6-3 after six.

The Bucs got one back in the seventh on a double by Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen‘s RBI hit up the middle, although Ahmed countered with a leadoff homer in the eighth against Stolmy Pimentel. Josh Harrison doubled in the ninth, but he was stranded to start the four-game series on a negative note.

BOX SCORE

The Pirates have another opportunity to get back in the win column Friday night when they send Edinson Volquez to the mound. Game time is set for 9:40 p.m. Eastern.

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Tags: Jeff Locke Neil Walker Pittsburgh Pirates Russell Martin

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