Postseason hopes end with loss to Mets

Postseason hopes end with loss to Mets

Postseason hopes end with loss to Mets
NEW YORK -- The Pirates came up with a split on the elimination front on Wednesday evening. Neither outcome was satisfactory, however.

A 6-0 loss to the Mets formally eliminated the Pirates from postseason contention, making official what for most of this month had been inevitable.

Concurrently, Jeff Locke did not eliminate any doubt that he can be a credible member of next season's starting rotation.

Rocked at the end of his 3 2/3-innings outing, Locke approached a half-century club record for most starts without a win at the beginning of a career. This was his ninth and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, no Pittsburgh pitcher had waited as long since Tommie Sisk began with 11 winless starts in 1962-65.

Asterisk: Sisk, more active out of the bullpen for those Pirates, actually earned five relief wins in the interim.

"All the great pitchers who know how to win also knew how to lose," Locke said. "My main goal when I go out there is to have put my team in a position to win when I leave. Lately, it hasn't gone that way when I've been on the mound."

Including Locke's two relief outings prior to landing his first start on Sept. 3, the Pirates are 0-7 in his appearances this season. Overall, the club dipped three games under .500 with seven games remaining.

Coming off four shutout innings at the end of his last start Friday in Houston, Locke added two more zeros Wednesday night. But when the gates opened in the third, he couldn't shut them until four New York runs had stormed through.

"That inning got complicated," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He hung a couple of breaking balls, and that extended the inning and led to more runs."

Meanwhile, the Pirates were completely handcuffed by Jeremy Hefner, a 26-year-old rookie right-hander who came in with a 2-7 record and 5.79 ERA. While matching a career high with seven strikeouts, Hefner pitched three-hit shutout ball through seven frames.

The Bucs ended the game with those three hits -- one by Starling Marte, two by Pedro Alvarez.

"He made pitches. He had command of all his pitches -- his changeup was probably as effective a weapon as he had," said Hurdle, unable to ignore the fact his hitters made it easier on Hefner. "What made it hard on ourselves, first eight innings, with 24 outs to play with -- we had 11 fly balls and eight punchouts. That's 19 soft outs. The changeup challenged us initially. Once we knew he had it, we weren't able to adjust, and after that we had pitches to hit, just couldn't cover them."

The night's main letdown, however, concerned Locke, who clearly has the shutdown stuff -- he fanned five more, giving him 28 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings -- but not yet the put-away edge.

The Pirates have high hopes that Locke can pair with Wandy Rodriguez for a lefty tandem in their '13 rotation, and Hurdle had been eager to see how his Triple-A progress (10-5, 2.48 ERA) played in the big leagues.

The development to which Hurdle attested has not been evident on the mound.

"There's no fear, and there's ability," Hurdle said of Locke before the game. "He's not afraid to throw his secondary pitches in offensive counts. He's grown a lot from what we had last year."

Locke's ERA grew to 6.35, approaching the 6.48 he had a year ago in four starts that comprised his big league baptism.

Locke, who had allowed six homers in his first four starts, this time kept the ball in the park. But he couldn't shed another harrowing habit: letting innings snowball on him. The young lefty has been scored on in eight of his 24 innings, and in half of those instances he allowed three or more runs.

That includes Wednesday's third, in which the Mets strung five hits -- including David Wright's franchise-record 1,419th -- for four runs. Daniel Murphy, Kelly Shoppach and Wright all singled for a run, and Scott Hairston mixed in an RBI double.

"Seemed like the game sped up on me," said Locke, invoking a big league euphemism for disarray. "I stopped executing some pitches. You gotta know when you have an opportunity to put a guy away ... get ahead 1-2, those gotta turn into outs. They won't always, but you gotta do the best job you can to eliminate that batter and try to minimize the damage.

"I really don't think it's been every single inning of every start -- it doesn't feel like it's all been a struggle. It all just goes up in one inning. I miss a 1-2 pitch and it leads to three, four runs. That seems like has been the trend over last few weeks. I've gotta keep pushing forward, take the positives, and go form there."

General manager Neal Huntington noted that "Jeff was good at putting down those innings in the Minors. He just has to begin translating that into the Majors."

Locke gave up one more run in the fourth on Ruben Tejada's single and was done, having taken a backward step in his march toward the Pirates' 2013 rotation. In his shortest start, he gave up his most hits -- nine -- while allowing five runs for the third time in five starts. Locke remained winless (0-6) in 11 career games, including the nine starts.

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