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MLB

Pirates Starter Jeff Locke Earns First Career Win

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Jeff Locke earned his first career victory on Monday night, earning himself a baseball on his mantle and a monkey off of his back heading into an already long off-season. What he didn’t do, however, is anything to help make a case for a rotation spot next season.

Locke pitched six innings of one-run baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 victory over the Altanta Braves on Monday night, walking a career-high five batters yet earning his first career victory in spite of it.

The left-handed Locke is not an over-powering pitcher, relying instead on impeccable control to help get the most out of his abilities. In almost 800 minor league innings, he’s walked just 2.5 batters per nine innings, and before last night, he had walked just six batters in 28 1/3 major league innings this season.

Locke was one of a number of young Pirates pitchers who had a stellar year at Triple-A Indianapolis this season, and as the wheels began to come flying off of the Pirates major league season this August, management called for reinforcements from the minors. Locke, 24, put together his best professional season in 2012, going 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA in 24 starts in Triple-A before his promotion.

His time in Pittsburgh hasn’t gone quite as well.

Locke has pitched in eight games this fall, making six starts down the stretch for the struggling Pirates, recording just one quality start entering Monday night. He’s up to two quality starts now, but despite earning his first victory, even Locke would likely have some criticism of his performance.

Entering September with an opportunity to make a lasting impression on the front office for next season, Locke has failed to firmly entrench himself as someone who can be relied on. Instead, he will enter spring training in a free-for-all competition for what could be anywhere from one to three open spots in the Pirates 2013 rotation.

The Pirates rotation for next year is far from set. Wandy Rodriguez has one spot locked up.  James McDonald will get a chance to start in one as well. Jeff Karstens is still under contract as well, unless the team chooses not to offer him arbitration, while Charlie Morton should be healthy by next spring. The Pirates have a team option for A.J. Burnett worth $16.5 million. Only Rodriguez’s spot comes without a real question mark, so there’s plenty of opportunities for the stable of young pitchers in the Pirates farm system.

Locke will never be the type of pitcher to pencil in at the top of a rotation, but he’s proven everything he can in the minors and appeared to be ready to grab hold in the majors. Despite earning his first win on Monday, he’s failed to do that during the final month of the season.

Locke will get his opportunities next spring, but he missed his best shot this fall. He had an opportunity to grab a rotation spot and failed to do so. Congrats on the game ball, Jeff, but the ball is no longer in your court.