Published DateBy Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — Conway's Jeff Locke pitched another seven innings of shutout ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night and just missed picking up his seventh win of the season.
Locke left the game after seven innings against the host Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park and appeared on his way to a 1-0 win, but with one out Jay Bruce belted a home run off Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli, who had been a perfect 25 for 25 in save opportunities until then, to tie the game. Four innings later, the Reds walked off with a 2-1 victory on bases loaded single by Brandon Phillips.
Locke's ERA dropped to 2.01, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers, 1.84) for the National League ERA lead. His ERA is third best in the Major Leagues (Clay Buchholtz, of the Red Sox, leads the American League with a 1.71 mark).
"That doesn't really do much for me," Locke, who is garnering All Star buzz, said. "I know that I've got guys here I got to do my best to take care of, because they're taking care of me."
Locke gave up just four hits and three walks while striking out three. He has now thrown back-to-back seven-inning shutouts and hasn't lost a decision since his first start on April 7, a stretch covering 14 games.
Locke has had seven starts this season in which he hasn't allowed a run. No other pitcher in baseball can say that. Six pitchers have had four such outings: Jorge De La Rosa, Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Paul Maholm, Justin Masterson and Shelby Miller.
He's allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his past 12 starts and in 13 of 15 overall.
A 2006 Kennett High graduate, Locke is 6-1 on the season in 15 starts. This season, he has pitched 89 1/3 innings; allowed 62 hits; 20 earned runs; 5 home runs; walked 39; and struck out 63 while holding opponents to a .203 batting average.
He has allowed just one home run in his last 12 starts spanning 74 innings.
Locke has not allowed a run in his last 14 innings and now has three streaks of at least two scoreless games in a row this season.
Wednesday night was and old-fashioned pitcher's duel, with Locke and Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo going toe-to-toe putting up goose eggs on the scoreboard. The lone blemish for former Red Sox Arroyo came in the third inning. Starling Marte tripled and scored on an error by Arroyo to make it 1-0.
Locke got into a bit of jam in the first inning when the first two hitters reached on a walk and an error, but the lone New Hampshire two-time Player of the Year worked out of it. He got perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto to hit into a fielder's choice at third and then got Phillips to ground into a 5-4-3 (third to second to first) double play got end the inning.
The Reds best scoring chance may have come in the second inning. With two outs, Zack Cozart drew a walk and catcher Ryan Hannigan doubled to left field. Cowart was gunned down at home by Marte, who threw a laser to Russell Martin and had the shortstop out by three steps.
Locke yielded his third and final base on balls in the third inning to Derrick Robinson with one out, but two pitches later he picked him off trying to steal second.
The Pirates took the lead in their half of the third inning and threatened a couple more times, loading the bases twice, but both times Arroyo pitched out of it, both times at Locke's expense.
In the fourth inning with runners on second and third and two outs, the Reds walked shortstop Jordy Mercer to load the bases to get to Locke, who has just one hit on the season. On a 1-0 pitch, Locke grounded back to the mound to retire the side.
In the sixth inning with one out and runners on second and third, Mercer got his second free pass in order for Arroyo to face Locke again. This time, on an 0-1 count, Locke grounded sharply to the shortstop for a fielder's choice. Cowart threw home to get the force for two outs. The bases were still loaded for Marte but he grounded out to Cowart, too, to end the inning.
Locke didn't take his frustration at the plate to the mound; he just got better as the game wore on. In the sixth inning, he needed just seven pitches to retire the side: Shin-Soo Choo grounded out to the catcher on the first pitch he saw; Votto grounded out to Locke on the fourth pitch he faced; and Phillips grounded out to third after just one pitch.
Locke, who threw 95 pitches on the evening (52 in the first three innings), had another seven-pitch inning in the seventh to conclude his night. Mark Melancon worked a scoreless eighth inning and gave way to Grilli, who had not allowed a home run all season, until Bruce took him deep.
Manager Clint Hurdle said Locke has done a good job of mixing his three pitches this season.
Locke said his "bread-and-butter pitch" is the inside fastball.
"He's getting the ball in to both left- and right-handers," Hurdle said. "He used his breaking ball well tonight. The two-seamers had good action. It was another very good outing."
Locke hasn't allowed a run in any of his last three home starts, and his streak of 20 1/3 scoreless innings in home games is the longest for a Pirates starting pitcher since Randy Tomlin had a streak of 23 scoreless home innings in June of 1992.
Locke's next scheduled start is Tuesday night on the West Coast when he faces the Seattle Mariners for the first time.
The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review contributed to this story.