First shutout culmination of Locke's progression

First shutout culmination of Locke's progression

MIAMI -- Sitting in the visiting manager's office at Marlins Park on Monday afternoon, Clint Hurdle explained an exercise he performs with new players. The Pirates' manager will ask them to stretch their arms above their head, reaching as far as they can. When they're done, he'll ask them to reach another three inches. Without fail, they'll extend their fingers another three inches into the air.

How does this apply to Pirates starter Jeff Locke? What does it have to do with his first career shutout Monday night in a 10-0 win over the Marlins, the Pirates' first complete game in nearly two years?

"Until we get to the point where we give those last three inches, who knows how good we can be or what we can become?" Hurdle said. "I think Jeff's trying to find those three more inches."

Locke's three-hit shutout

Locke gave the Pirates three inches and nine innings at Marlins Park, as he quickly and efficiently tossed 105 pitches in Pittsburgh's first complete game since Vance Worley went the distance against the Giants on July 28, 2014.

After the final out, Locke clapped into his gloved right hand and stepped off the mound. He hugged catcher Francisco Cervelli, high-fived and hugged his teammates and walked toward the clubhouse. Before he reached the dugout, he found a handshake and hug waiting from Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage.

The whole time, Locke couldn't erase the smile from his face.

"Unbelievable. He's just a kid, man. He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met," Cervelli said. "The best thing? When he walked in, everybody was so happy for him. That's why this is a great ballclub."

Locke wasn't the definition of dominant, striking out only one batter. But he threw strikes and used the Marlins' aggressiveness against them, as Pittsburgh's defenders scooped up 13 groundouts. Locke allowed three hits without a walk. He threw no more than 16 pitches in an inning.

"He's throwing every pitch with conviction," Cervelli said. "You have to know what kind of guy you are, what kind of pitcher you are, and you can have success like he did."

That has been a work in progress for Locke, who's experienced highs and lows over his six-year career. So the Pirates challenged him to be aggressive. More than anything, they preached an "all-in" mentality.

Locke responded with the most efficient stretch of his career, pitching at least six innings in seven of his 10 starts this season.

"I think it's more of a progression of that aggressive nature off the mound," Hurdle said. "Really fun to watch."

Locke realized he had a chance to go deep into the game after seeing his pitch count at 45 after four innings.

"If things go really well for like the next hour and a half," he told himself, "you can wind up with a pretty good game!"

About an hour and a half later, after his 101st career start, he finished his first shutout. The Pirates asked him for three more inches, and he stretched as far as he could.

"Unlike anything I've ever been a part of," Locke said. "Actually, I've never been a part of it, so it was pretty special."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.