Locke finds himself competing for spot again

Left-hander, Nicasio, Vogelsong vying for two rotation berths

Locke finds himself competing for spot again

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jeff Locke found himself in an unfortunately familiar position Wednesday afternoon, fielding questions about his spot in the Pirates' rotation.

The left-hander allowed three runs on six hits and struck out three over five innings in a 6-5 win over the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. But the questions were set in motion two days earlier, when general manager Neal Huntington made it official that Locke is once again competing for a starting job.

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Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Jonathon Niese are in. That leaves Locke, veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong and Spring Training standout Juan Nicasio for the final two spots in the rotation.

"It's not my decision to make. It's a question I get asked every year for the last five years," Locke said. "I've never had a job, you could say, in the rotation. I've never come in with one, and I haven't really left with one until the last day of camp.

"Whatever they decide to do up top is the best for the ballclub, and you have to respect that decision. Whether you agree with it or not, that's not your decision to make. It's respecting the decision of trying to get the best 25 guys in the right position on the field and give us the best chance to win."

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In 2013, Locke beat out Kyle McPherson and Jeanmar Gomez for a spot in the rotation and wound up making the National League All-Star team. The next year, he opened the season on the disabled list. Last season, he beat Vance Worley for the fifth and final spot, but both wound up in the Opening Day rotation, anyway.

"It's unfortunate that you're in this spot all the time where you want to come into camp and you want to work on stuff and you want to progress," Locke said. "But at the same time, you think you have to do more or impress more or every game's got to be a no-hitter."

So far this spring, Locke has been working on his new delivery, hoping it will improve his command and overall consistency. The results have been mixed, ranging from back-to-back strong starts against the Phillies and Tigers to a five-run, five-inning outing against the Yankees on Thursday.

"He's another guy that's looking to take a bigger step toward the consistent side of things," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He wants to take the next step, and it's not about potential; it's about consistency."

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Still, the windup feels like second nature. He's holding runners better out of the stretch. He's always run his fastball inside, and now he's doing a better job using it on both sides of the plate. He started three ground-ball double plays in Wednesday's game.

"We have to look past results all the time. Everybody wants to look at the results because it's Spring Training, but we've been away from baseball for a while," Locke said. "You just have to take the good and move forward with it. ... We're going to wipe the slate clean here in a couple weeks and start for real."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.