Struggles could cost Locke spot in rotation

Left-hander allows five runs over 3 2/3 innings in loss to Brewers

Struggles could cost Locke spot in rotation

MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Locke found himself in the middle of the first of what doubtless will be many September tipping points for the Pirates. Locke lost his balance and, as a result, might have lost his spot in the rotation.

Manager Clint Hurdle wasn't prepared to discuss Locke's status after his weak 3 2/3-inning outing was a major reason for Wednesday's 9-4 loss to the Brewers.

"I'm not going to get into that right after a guy goes 3 2/3 innings," Hurdle said. "Those are conversations we'll have internally. We continue to look at ways to make our team stronger all the time. Adjustments in any spot … those are ongoing conversations."

Something else ongoing: For Locke's third consecutive start, the long man out of the bullpen was Joe Blanton, an erstwhile starter who "has shown the ability to [start]," Hurdle had said a few days ago.

Also, Vance Worley is on call with Triple-A Indianapolis and A.J. Burnett, Locke's best bud, no less, is working his way back.

All of it endangers Locke's tenure and shortens his rope. The lefty certainly did not lengthen it with his reaction to Aramis Ramirez's game-tying three-run homer in the top of the fourth.

"The game's all about shutdown innings after you score," Hurdle said.

Locke let the Brewers regain the lead with a two-out rally sparked by, of all people, Zach Davies, the pitcher making his big league debut, and finished off by Jonathan Lucroy's two-run single.

"He threw a changeup to the pitcher, and he hit the ball in the gap," Hurdle recounted. "Then threw a ball up to [Jean] Segura [who doubled]. Then Lucroy stayed on a ball and drove it up the middle."

Davies' first Major League hit

Oh, irony: Locke is sometimes criticized for avoiding contact, which leads to walks. The fourth inning was one time Hurdle might have preferred for Locke to walk Lucroy, because then he could've gone to Jared Hughes.

"I [let Locke pitch to] Lucroy, and if he walks, I've got Hughes on [Ryan] Braun," Hurdle said. "But I gave him Lucroy, and that's a decision I make. It's on me."

After the Lucroy go-ahead hit, Hughes did enter -- and retired Braun on a comebacker.

"The game always comes down to execution. I just didn't do a good job of that," Locke said. "You've got to find a way to get the third out, you've got to find a way to finish that inning."

It was a letdown to the uplifting moment provided by Ramirez, and the worst kind of flashback for Locke, whose diminished roles in the Bucs' 2013-14 playoff drives reflected his performance in the season's final month.

Including Wednesday night's start -- in which he gave up nine hits, five runs and induced only eight swings and misses among the 80 pitches he threw -- Locke has a career September record of 2-13. He is 23-15 in the other months. But September is in. And Hurdle must decide if Locke is out.

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.