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.