By John Perrotto
Jeff Locke was the last person expecting to be a September callup by the Pirates. The left-hander was already packed up and ready to drive home to Conway, N.H., before Class AAA Indianapolis played its season finale Monday.
However, Locke had a change of travel plans after Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor called him into his office following the game. Treanor told Locke he was headed to Pittsburgh and the 23-year-old was stunned.
Locke will make his major-league debut Saturday night when he starts against the Florida Marlins at PNC Park. The Pirates aren’t committing to how much they will use Locke beyond what will be a spot start as he subs for Charlie Morton, whose turn in the rotation is being skipped so he can extra rest after pitching 153 2/3 innings in 26 starts this season.
“I’m very excited, so happy to be able to come up here,” Locke said. “Especially to come up with a few guys I’d been with all year — it means even more.”
Locke finished the season by going 1-2 with a 2.22 ERA in five starts for Indianapolis after posting a 7-8 record with a 4.03 ERA in 23 games, 22 starts, for Class AA Altoona.
The Pirates felt Locke was the key to the Nate McLouth trade in 2009 when they acquired him along with Morton and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, who finished this season at Indianapolis and is on the Pirates’ 40-man roster. Locke was the Braves’ second-round pick in 2006 as a high school senior.
Locke is not imposing physically imposing as he stands 6-1, 215, and his fastball usually sits in the 91-92 range despite having the nickname “The Redstone Rocket” for growing up in the Redstone section of Conway.
However, Locke has a deceptive herky-jerky delivery, an outstanding changeup and a decent curveball. He also draws high marks for his mound presence and feel for pitching.
All of that helped Locke strike out 139 batters in 153 1/3 innings combined at Altoona and Indianapolis this season. One red flag is that he averaged a career-high 3.2 walks per nine innings, though he lowered that number to 2.9 at Indianapolis.
“Basically, I just threw a lot more strikes, commanded the fastball on both sides of the plate,” Locke said about the way he pitched following his promotion to Indianapolis. “I used my breaking ball and changeup to lefties and righties. I threw a lot of 2-0 or 2-1 offspeed. I just really honed in with that in the second half. I was fortunate to get this call, and I’ll take it from here.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988.