Locke helps Bucs pull within 2 1/2 of division lead
By Tom Singer and Adam Berry
PITTSBURGH -- If Jeff Locke is on his way out of the Pirates' rotation, he is delivering an exit line worthy of Shakespeare. The left-hander fueled the latest round of the Bucs' charge toward the top of the National League Central, pitching three-hit scoreless ball into the seventh Saturday night as the Pirates upended the Brewers, 10-2, at PNC Park.
"Jeff pitched extremely well, with an excellent mix of pitches from the start until he left," said Clint Hurdle, the Pirates manager who may soon have to decide whether Locke will be the one to lose his spot with A.J. Burnett's return having endowed the club with six starters for five slots. "A very, very good outing for him."
The victory, coupled with the Cardinals' losses in the conclusion of Friday night's suspended game and regularly-scheduled game in Cincinnati, moved the Pirates within 2 1/2 games of the NL Central lead. The Pirates trailed by 6 1/2 games last Sunday, before beating the Cards in the finale of a three-game series in St. Louis.
Milwaukee rookie right-hander Zach Davies was rocked by a five-run third keyed by the first of Aramis Ramirez's two RBI doubles and wound up taking his first Major League loss.
"Just nibbling and not being around the plate. Even when I made good pitches, it was in situations where it didn't matter," said Davies, who walked five Pirates. "Just got to make sure I'm ahead."
Locke does have one more scheduled start due to the Pirates' doubleheader on Tuesday against the Cubs. In Saturday's game, Locke retired 18 of the 20 men he faced through six, and departed with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. Luis Sardinas' sacrifice fly off reliever Jared Hughes scored the only run charged against Locke, and Ryan Braun added an RBI double in the eighth.
"From the get-go, my objective was to throw strike one before ball one," said Locke, who followed through on that by making first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 batters. "I moved the ball around, went to offspeed stuff, came back to the hard stuff -- just kept them guessing." More >
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hot at the hot corner: Ramirez was back at third base after three consecutive starts at first -- in which he was 1-for-11 without an RBI -- because manager Clint Hurdle was curious whether "it would provide some comfort" for him in the batter's box. Ramirez was at ease with consecutive RBI doubles in the third and fourth.
"I really don't think about defense when I'm batting," said Ramirez, who'd spent his entire career at third until answering a call for help across the diamond. "But playing first isn't as easy as people think. If I had my choice, I'd rather be at third base; I've been playing there since I was 17. But I'm not one of those players with egos. If they think I can help out, I'm willing."
Davies done in by big inning: Coming off his first big league victory, Davies couldn't get past the Pirates for the second time in his first three Major League starts. The 22-year-old right-hander gave up four runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings against Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, then allowed the first six batters he faced in the five-run third to reach safely on Saturday.
"He never got in that comfort zone with the fastball," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. More >
Morse code for "Granny": Morse dramatically lived up to his track record against the Brewers with one out in the seventh, when he connected for the fifth grand slam of his career. In 27 games since the start of the 2010 season, Morse is 32-for-80 (.400) with seven homers and 29 RBIs against Milwaukee -- and 3-for-3 this season, with a double, triple and homer.
"That's one of the reasons I like giving him at-bats -- he's shown the ability to get some things done. That's why sometimes you try to have more patience than anybody else might." -- Hurdle, on Josh Harrison, a late lineup addition (after left fielder Starling Marte was scratched with gastroenteritis) who went 4-for-4 with a walk
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Barring one of two developments -- the 85-win Bucs collapse, or they nearly run the remaining NL Central table -- the Pirates will become only the seventh team in the post-1969 divisions era to finish with 90-plus wins and have a losing record within their division. They are 27-35 against NL Central teams, with 14 games to go.
After Adam Lind drew a walk to lead off the ninth inning, the Pirates went around the horn on a ground ball from Domingo Santana -- from Harrison to Pedro Florimon to Pedro Alvarez -- to turn a 5-4-3 double play. The Brewers initiated an instant replay review that lasted one minute and 35 seconds. But the close call at first base stood as it was initially ruled, and Santana was out.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: The Brewers will close out their season series against the Pirates at 12:35 p.m. CT on Sunday at PNC Park, sending right-hander Taylor Jungmann to the mound against a team he's suppressed all season. Jungmann is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and a .159 opponents' average in three starts against Pittsburgh this season.
Pirates:Francisco Liriano, almost a sure thing for nearly three months, takes the mound in Sunday's series finale against the Brewers at 1:35 p.m. ET in PNC Park. The Bucs have won 12 of Liriano's 13 starts -- nine straight at home -- since June 20.