Locke off his game while Bucs' bats fall flat

Left-hander gives up six runs over 6 2/3 innings, including three homers

Locke off his game while Bucs' bats fall flat

DENVER -- Everywhere the Pirates turn since the All-Star break, they've been met with a left-hander.

By the time the Pirates' visit to Colorado is over, they will have faced left-handed starters in seven of their first nine games out of the break.

Pittsburgh began the second half by seeing three straight southpaws from the Rockies, but managed to pull off come-from-behind victories in each game of the series despite the trio turning in quality starts.

Overall, the Bucs haven't had too much trouble getting by against lefties over that stretch until Brett Anderson blew through their lineup on Friday. And on Saturday night, left-hander Tyler Matzek carried over his scoreless tear with seven innings of three-hit ball to drop the Pirates, 8-1, for the second straight night.

The Pirates entered this series with a Major League-best .334 on-base percentage. The Rockies' pitching staff owns the worst ERA in the Majors, but through two games of this series, the Pirates have only put together two runs and nine hits.

"Good pitching beats good hitting," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've pitched it better than us, they've hit it better than us and they've fielded better than us in the last two nights."

The Pirates could only scrape across two hits against Anderson on Friday and with Matzek, it was more of the same. Matzek struck out a career-high eight Pirates in last weekend's start, but he only needed three punch-outs this go-around, letting his defense do most of the work.

"I didn't have the feel for the slider as much," Matzek said. "That's why I was working on early contact, just trying to get balls on the ground, easy outs. You've got to keep the ball down and let the defense work."

That's what he did, as Jordy Mercer's double was the Pirates' only extra-base hit off Matzek. On the night, the Pirates compiled 14 outs on the ground against Rockies pitchers.

Comparatively, the Rockies had four extra-base hits, but three of them were solo shots off left-hander Jeff Locke. Drew Stubbs, Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson each left the yard, but the damage could have been much worse considering the Rockies got to Locke for 10 hits.

"When you look at the volume of work, when he was down, he was very good," Hurdle said. "There were some good sequences, but when mistakes were made over the plate, they didn't miss at the end of the day."

After allowing six earned runs over 6 2/3 innings, Locke admitted he wasn't as comfortable as Matzek was seeing the same lineup for the second time in less than a week.

"I think it gets in my head a tad bit when you play a team you don't see a lot during the season, but somehow you face them twice in a row," Locke said.

In the third inning, Josh Rutledge logged the first RBI of the game for the second straight night, driving in Charlie Blackmon on a single after he made it to second on a Mercer throwing error. And ever since Troy Tulowitzki injured his hip in the fourth inning of last Saturday's game and Rutledge took over, the 25-year-old backup has been a Pirate-killer.

Including a two-run homer off Locke last Sunday, Rutledge has gone 8-for-15 with nine RBIs and three runs scored.

"With the way I faced him last time, you almost wish Tulo was in," Locke said.

Just like the previous night, it took until the ninth for the Pirates to push across their only run with Ike Davis swatting a pinch-hit solo shot to prevent the shutout.

But Hurdle knows it's not the at-bats the Pirates are putting up as much as it is the product of facing some locked-in pitching.

"I wouldn't say it's a poor approach, I'd say right now they're getting the balls and making it tough on us," Hurdle said. "We've seen five quality starts in a row from their staff. ... We've had a couple opportunities to get some traction, get some momentum going and double-play balls are sniffed out or we haven't been able to get the next hit to keep the line moving."

Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.