Pirates' Locke wins sixth straight decision

John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Locke made a case that he has become the Pittsburgh Pirates No. 1 starter.
The left-hander pitched seven strong innings and combined with two relievers for a five-hit shutout in the Pirates' 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park.
Locke (6-1) gave up two hits while striking out five and walking one. Locke won his sixth straight decision and not lost since his first start of the season on April 7 against the Dodgers at Los Angeles.
Locke is the only one of the five pitchers who began the season in the Pirates' rotation that's currently on the active roster. And with ace A.J. Burnett on the disabled list with a torn muscle in his right calf, the No. 1 spot is open.
However, Locke remembers that it wasn't even three months ago that he was in spring training competing for the fifth starter's job. He also entered this season 1-6 with a 5.82 ERA in 12 major-league games.
"You know, when you break camp as the No. 5 guy, if something happens or if someone starts off hot down below, you might be the guy that gets moved," Locke said. "It's kind of pitching to survive. Try to pitch well and keep your job as long as you can. I'm obviously pleased with what's going on and where the team is at right now. I'll just keep taking (the ball) as long as they keep giving it to me."
Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli completed the shutout. Grilli gave up back-to-back infield singles to start the ninth but escaped the jam for his major-league-leading 24th save in as many chances.
In his last six starts, Locke has compiled a 0.99 ERA. He also has not allowed a run in his last three starts at PNC Park, covering 20 1/3 innings.
Locke even broke a 0-for-30 skid at the plate, which dated to last season, by capping an eight-pitch at-bat in the fourth inning with a single.
"You always look during a season for somebody to show up in the rotation, somebody to show up in the bullpen, somebody to show up as a position player you thought would do OK," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "We call them survivors here when they initially get up to the leagues, then we look for them to turn that corner as competitors, and the last stage as a winner. I think we've seen Jeff grow out of that surviving stage and he's right in the middle of the competing stage."
Stephen Fife (1-2) allowed two runs and six hits in five innings with three walks and four strikeouts.
Fife has given up two or fewer runs in eight of his nine career starts but has a 1-4 record. He has received just 14 runs of support in his 48 1/3 innings.
"I threw at least 20 pitches in each of the first four innings and you're not going to stay in the game long doing that," Fife said. "It was a battle the whole time I was out there."
Andrew McCutchen had two hits, including a two-run double off Fife in the third after Alex Presley and Russell Martin opened the inning with singles. McCutchen has hit a double in five consecutive games and has gone 10-for-19 (.526) in that span to raise his batting average to .299.
McCutchen also scored in the eighth inning on Neil Walker's sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig went 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .487 through 11 games.
The Dodgers did not get a runner past first base until the top of the eighth when Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled to put runners on second and third with two outs. However, Melancon escaped the threat by striking out pinch-hitter Juan Uribe.
"Locke was throwing strikes. If you were going to take pitches, then you were going to be down in the count 0-1, 0-2 in every at-bat," Los Angeles first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "He made us swing the bat and we didn't put too many good swings on him."
The Pirates (40-27) won for the fifth time in seven games overall and have won 14 of their last 18 home games. They beat the Dodgers for the just the fourth time in their last 22 meetings.
Los Angeles (28-38) has lost five of six overall and 12 of its last 15 on the road, dropping their season record in away games to 9-18.
NOTES: Los Angeles RHP Ronald Belisario sat out the game as he served his one-game suspension from Major League Baseball for his part in the brawl Tuesday between the Dodgers and Arizona. Manager Don Mattingly (one game) and hitting coach Mark McGwire (two games) were also suspended and not in uniform. Bench coach Trey Hillman managed the team in Mattingly's place. ... Dodgers LHP J.P. Howell and INF/OF Skip Schumaker both appealed two-game suspensions and can continue playing until those appeals are heard. ... The Dodgers activated C A.J. Ellis from the 15-day disabled list and designated C Ramon Hernandez for assignment. ... Los Angeles SS Hanley Ramirez returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a strained left hamstring. He had missed 28 games earlier in the season for the same injury. ... Pittsburgh LF Starling Marte missed his second straight game with a strained left rib cage and was again replaced by Presley. ... Pittsburgh is expected to select the contract of RHP Brandon Cumpton from Triple-A Indianapolis before Saturday's game and have him start in what will be his major-league debut against Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 1.88).

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