By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — In 2012 James McDonald earned All-Star consideration by surging through the first half of the season, only to fall apart down the stretch. Is All-Star southpaw Jeff Locke headed for a similar fate?

Locke started 8-1 in his first 17 apperances. Since the All-Star Break he’s gone 1-2, his ERA has jumped by four whole runs, and his WHIP is all the way up to 2.05. In the second half of the season he’s walked 27 against 37 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings.

He lasted just 4 2/3 on Tuesday, surrendering five runs in a 7-6 loss to the Brewers.

Last year “J-Mac” became the Bucs’ albatross in the final couple months of play, and things weren’t much better for the 28-year-old righty at the outset of the 2013 campaign. He’s posted a 5.76 ERA and has been on the 60-day DL since July 12 with an elbow injury. GM Neal Huntington hasn’t been entirely pleased with his rehab work, either.

On Wednesday Locke was sent down to Double-A Altoona. It was a temporary solution to make room for newcomers Marlon Byrd and John Buck on the big-league roster, as Huntington noted, but it speaks to organizational concern about his second-half downturn.

“His 2.15 earned run average before the break represented one of the lowest in all of baseball as the Pirates shot up the standings in the National League Central. Sound familiar?” Jared Stonesifer of the Yahoo! Sports Contributor Network writes. “McDonald pitched to a 2.37 earned run average before the break in 2012, and fans were outraged at the perceived snub when he was left off the All-Star roster. Locke gave up 76 hits in 109 innings pitched this year before the break. McDonald last year gave up 76 hits in 110 innings pitched before the break.”

Click here to read the full column by Stonesifer.

If there was any pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation fighting both history and advanced mathematics, it was the 25-year-old Locke.

His walk rate has increased steadily each month, and he leads the National League with 74 free passes. In the first half of the season, he made up for it with a very high strand rate.

In July opponents posted a batting average on balls in play of .338 against him. In August that number has ballooned to .417.

His problems appear to be more mechanical than physical, and most would call his mindset in fewer pieces than McDonald’s at this point. So, hopefully, what we’ve seen late in the season is Locke dropping back toward statistical norms, and nothing more.

The Pirates begin a critical weekend series with the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park Friday at 7:05.

As of publication, neither the Pirates nor the Cardinals had named a starter for their Sunday afternoon contest.

Stay tuned to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home of Pirates baseball, for the latest.


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