Locke steps forward with performance, but looks to improve

Polanco extends hitting streak to 10 games

Locke steps forward with performance, but looks to improve

ATLANTA -- To say that Jeff Locke's start of redemption Saturday night resulted in a no-decision is a bit misleading. While the lefty's record does not reflect the Pirates' 5-4 loss to the Braves, he did earn the decision to remain in the rotation.

Manager Clint Hurdle made that clear, calling his 6 1/3 inning effort "a nice step forward."

After being jumped by the Padres for seven runs in four innings in his last start, Locke improved from crooked numbers to the picket fence -- the Braves touched him for single runs in four of his seven innings.

"But he kept it in place," Hurdle said. "I thought he did all the things we asked him to do [in his between-starts sideline work], and was able to take it into the game and compete. The intent was better, he was aggressive through the zone. For the most part, he kept the ball down and moved it around."

Locke was pitching for a win, not for his job. Hurdle made sure he knew that.

"By no means [was] he told this is his last start, so do or don't," the manager said. "We're still gonna look at the body of work. He understands more than anybody that ownership of that spot [in the rotation] has to be continued to be earned."

"It's definitely in the back of your head. You don't forget about how things have gone in the past," said Locke, who remained with one win in his last nine starts.

Even in apparently maintaining ownership of that spot, Locke seemed disconsolate afterwards. He is very aware of the excellent company he's keeping in that rotation, and was stung by the fact he has started two of the Bucs' three losses in a 15-game stretch.

"The way these guys in the rotation have been throwing, you want to pick up where they left off, and try to get it back in their hands," Locke said. "Because they've done such a great job, you want to do your best to continue that.

"But, yeah, definitely a step in the right direction. I still made some mistakes you can't make -- the two-out walk [to Jonny Gomes in the fourth, leading to Atlanta's go-ahead run], leaving some pitches over the plate."

Touching all the bases

• First: Gregory Polanco extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a 3-for-4 night capped by the clutch, two-out, two-run single that tied it at 4 in the eighth.

"Looks like he's in the best rhythm he's been in," Hurdle said. "He's hitting with a lot of confidence."

• Second: Josh Harrison batted fifth for the first time since last July 5, and for only the 11th time in 421 career games.

• Third: The Pirates' only stranded baserunner of the night was Polanco, following his tie-breaking single in the eighth.

• Home(r): Andrew McCutchen's fourth-inning homer was career dinger No. 136, tying him with Kevin Young for 10th place on the Bucs' all-time list.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.