PITTSBURGH -- No Pittsburgh Pirates player has shown more improvement this season than Jeff Locke.
The left-hander is 9-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 22 starts after failing to impress in major league stints during the previous two seasons. Locke's status as one of the better starting pitchers in the National League was validated last month when San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy selected him to participate in the All-Star Game.
However, with the pennant races heating up, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wants to see Locke take another step forward.
Locke lasted just 5 2/3 innings on Tuesday night and did not factor in the decision as the Pirates rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins at PNC Park. It was the second consecutive lackluster effort for Locke as he gave up three runs and nine hits while walking three and striking out four.
In his previous start on July 31, Locke failed to get an out in the fifth inning in a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Pirates lead the NL Central and are trying overcome the ghosts of 20 consecutive losing seasons, a record for major North American professional team sports.
Simply put, Hurdle wants to see Locke rise to the occasion when it matters most.
"There are lessons to be learned for him," Hurdle said. "He's always got to be the predator and the aggressor. We're into August, we're into September. Everybody that gets that ball, you've got to be throwing aggressive punches off the mound with intent and conviction."
Locke hasn't done that in his past two outings. He has picked at the strike zone and seemed hesitant to challenge hitters.
Locke is pitching the way he did in 2011 and 2012, when he was 1-6 with a 5.82 ERA in 12 games (10 starts).
At the All-Star Game, Locke talked about how much his confidence has grown this season and how he had applied the difficult lessons learned in his first two major league shots to become a better pitcher.
Locke insists he hasn't changed his approach in his most recent starts. However, he is 1-1 with a 4.03 ERA since the All-Star break and has averaged fewer than six innings in those outings.
"I've done everything the same way." Locke said. "I'm going to continue to do it the same way. I've done it the same way all year."