Jeff Locke will start the regular season as the Pirates fourth starter. It doesn't matter if he proceeds to give up four runs in the first inning of every Spring Training start from here until Opening Day. The Pirates have faith in this guy, they've ridden him to a fair extent and with a recent mechanical revamping, they are investing the time in him. However, I'm not ready to "Locke" him into that number four spot.
Over the last two months, the Bucs pitching brain trust, led by pitching coach Ray Searage, have worked with Jeff Locke on revamping his mechanics. They are working to remove his exaggerated torso twist in hopes of a more direct, consistent delivery. In their minds, a more consistent, simplified delivery should lead to a more consistent season than we have seen. Locke seems to be welcoming the changes and has told reporters he feels comfortable with the adjustment and is excited for the results.
It's refreshing to see the Pirates putting in work with Locke. His ERA has steadily reason since the 2013 campaign in which he was an All Star. The slow crumbling of a pitcher coming to a culmination last year, when he posted a 4.49 ERA with an 8-11 record. This Pirates team needs a solid, "more consistent" Jeff Locke. The Bucs will take the field on Opening Day with a team of five pitchers that no reasonable fan can have too much faith in. You know Cole is gonna go out there and get you 10-15 wins but after that it's up in the air. Worries about Liriano are more than fair, he's in the twilight of his career and displayed last year that a different Frankie takes the hill every time through the rotation. Will he wield the wipeout slider or struggle with control and barely escape the top of the first? Jon Niese, the offseason acquisition coming from the Neil Walker trade, is a glorified Jeff Locke to put it bluntly. Just like Locke, he's got a career ERA of around 4.00 and has hardly ever pitched better than to be placed anywhere other than the back of a rotation. The Pirates will lean on him in the third spot. Hopefully we see the best from the lefty. Next comes Locke, we don't need to go much further on him I think Pirates Twitter made that clear after his outing today...
Finally, rounding out the rotation, grizzled vet, Ryan Vogelsong. It's his maiden voyage back in Pittsburgh. If you thought Searage turned garbage into diamonds with Burnett, he may be a miracle worker if he can channel quality production out of Vogey. Don't underestimate the power of Searage and his magic, but I wouldn't count on Vogelsong for more than eight wins. We can hope to see shades of his 2011 All Star campaign but that's unlikely with a 89 mph fastball.
The point in all this is that a struggling Jeff Locke, or the Jeff Locke we have seen the last couple of seasons, poses a problem for an average rotation. With power arm, farm system starts like Taillon and Glasnow waiting in the wings, expect a short leash on Locke this season. Taillon and Glasnow won't make their way to PNC until midsummer, but by then Locke may have already pitched his way out of the rotation. I would expect to see someone like Kyle Lobstein step in for Locke in times of trouble, in older to hold the fort until Taillon and Glasnow are "ready". The Pirates don't have a quality rotation to start the season, but they do have arms. If Locke doesn't pitch to the fourth spot the Pirates are likely to give him...he should be replaced.
Jung Ho Kang was injured last season on this "controversial" slide by Cubs' Chris Coghlan
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Expect Clint Hurdle's bum hip to be a factor in the 2016 campaign as managers and pitching coaches will be on the clock. Beginning this year, coaches will be limited to thirty second mound visits. The time will be kept on an in-stadium clock from the moment they exit the dugout. Umpires will enforce the time, without penalty, employing the usual "move it along" nudge. This mound visit clock is part of the initiative by MLB to shorten the duration of games. Managers and pitching coaches frequently use mound visits to provide bullpen guys some extra time to warm up, the league would like to get away from this. Other "fast play" initiatives have seemed to work as the average game time last season was cut down to just under three hours. In addition, MLB is cutting the time between innings from 2:25 to 2:05, in an attempt to shorten the game in the easiest ways possible.
Middle infielders should feel a bit safer this season with amendments to sliding plays at second base. After a group from the MLB and the Players Association met and reviewed sliding plays from last season they were able to put together some changes and clarify the rules for sliding into second. They have outlined 4 main criteria for slides into second base: 1. Slide prior to reaching the bag 2. Slide so you are able to and attempt to reach or touch the base 3. Slide so you are able to and attempt to stay on the base 4. Do not change your pathway to the base
Shortstops and second basemen are expected to receive throws and make turns from the back side of the bag, where if the new criteria is met, they will remain unharmed.
Runners are no longer allowed to kick their legs above a fielders knee (no more spikes up). They may not start a slide after the bag or roll into a fielder either. These rules are now official and are expected to be strictly enforced by umpires this season.
Former All Star and Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz is the newest member of the Pirates "Shark Tank". On Wednesday the Pirates and Feliz finalized a one year, $3.9 million contract. Feliz is 27 years old and ended up in the free agent pool after the Tigers failed to offer him a deal for 2016. Last season with the Texas Rangers, he went 1-2 with a 4.58 ERA in just 18 times on the bump. After being designated for assignment, Detroit scooped him up in July. With the Tigers Feliz went 2-2 and posted an awful (career worst), 7.62 ERA in 28 and 1/3 innings of work.
2010 was the year for this guy. An American League All Star and the Rookie of the Year. He worked out of the back end of the bullpen that season and was able to tally 40 saves. Basically, he was the Aroldis Chapman of 2010, just not quite as much firepower.
All those heaters caught up with him though, in 2012 he underwent Tommy John surgery. Tommy John isn't the death sentence for pitchers anymore. The guy may still have some quality pitching in him. Most of his troubles seem to have stemmed from teams attempts to convert him to a starting pitcher. This is a max effort, power pitcher. He's meant for the back end of a bullpen, right where the Pirates will use him. His velocity has not taken much of a hit since the beginning of his career, he still gets up around 98 and should be able to touch the century mark.
Feliz fits the Pirates' mold. Searage shouldn't have much work on his hands with a talent like this. He just needs a little career rejuvenation.