MILWAUKEE – MLB.com’s Tom Singer, who created the K-Rod moniker for Francisco Rodriguez, has dubbed the Pirates’ Locke Ness monster.
The shoe fits.
For starters, as Singer notes, we don’t know if either Jeff Locke (Ness) or the Loch Ness Monster are for real. We don’t know for sure if a 150-foot Cryptid resides in the depths of a lake in the Scottish highlands. And xFIP and all of his friends are pretty skeptical that Jeff Locke can maintain his performances to date.
Do you believe?
I wasn’t a Locke believer early on this season. I sided with my frenemy FIP.
I became a believer Saturday when I saw his inside fastball.
Fear is a big thing to overcome in baseball.
Fear of the ball eliminates many potential players early on. Fear of failure is another thing to overcome in a game of failure. Fear to stand in against a pitcher lacking control and possession of a 95 mph fastball is easy to understand.
And the fear to pitch inside, the fear of making mistakes that can result in home runs, is another thing to overcome in baseball.
Locke showed no fear of the inside portion of the plate Saturday against the Brewers. He recorded four strikeouts looking, telling of his fastball command on the inside portion of the plate.
“The pitch that really made the different for him was the fastball inside for strikes,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ”He got a bunch of fastballs called for strikes which opened up some other lanes for him to take advantage of.”
He locked up Aramis Ramirez and Norichika Aoki, two very good MLB hitters, with inside fastballs.
He’s become more confident throwing inside this year because he has a pitch with more movement: a two-seam fastball. He’s now starting the pitch off the plate and letting it run over the plate. His command is better.
All great pitchers pitch inside, and pitchers without great raw stuff, like Locke – to an extent Cliff Lee – have to pitch inside.
We’ve seen Locke’s confidence improve. We’ve seen him pick up a new weapon: the two-seam fastball. On Saturday we saw him own the inside part of the strike zone, the fear zone for young pitchers.
It’s a reason to fear Locke if you’re a big league hitter. And perhaps it’s another reason to believe Locke is for real. Probably not 2.45 ERA for a full season, but for real in the sense that he’s a capable big league stater.
I came to Pittsburgh from the the Carolinas where I covered college football and where I heard “The Process” become the most popular phrase used by college coaches like Nick Saban to explain, how a dedication to preparation and improvement is more important than any one scoreboard reading, any singular result.
I’m hearing it a lot on the baseball ranks.
In Milwaukee this weekend Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, who each homered Saturday, each cited “The Process.” The results weren’t showing until this weekend, but they said the process was working, that they are feeling better about their swings. The work in the cage, the video time, the finding of rhythm was working but that it was a gradual process.
Eventually the results will come.
And they need to come for the Pirates. The Pirates can’t expect to own a 3.20 staff ERA all season. The offense ranks eighth in the league with a .701 OPS. The Pirates need The Process to produce more left-handed punch, especially this week as the Pirates are in line to face six straight right-handed pitchers. I understand The Process. It makes sense. But even processes are designed to produce results.