MILWAUKEE -- Despite a couple of notable hiccups -- most notably, A.J. Burnett's injury-delayed season and Charlie Morton's loss to Tommy John surgery -- the Pirates have had one of the Majors' more stable starting rotations. They have had to use only eight different starters, a relatively low number in the big picture (the A's have gone through 10). At the most critical time, the launching pad into the September stretch, the Bucs have had to shake things up, due to injury and ineffectiveness. When they return from this brief weekend trip to open up a homestand with three games against Houston, Jeff Locke, Wandy Rodriguez and Kevin Correia will face the Astros.
The rookie Locke hasn't started at all yet, Rodriguez joined the team on July 28 -- and he replaced Correia, who has spent most of the last six weeks in the bullpen. The left-handed Locke's insertion into Erik Bedard's old spot was anticipated. Indianapolis' Pitcher of the Year was one of five players added from the Triple-A club to the expanded roster. "He's made a lot of progress," manager Clint Hurdle said of Locke. "His ability to locate, to mix speeds, the command -- all of it. The next step is to check it out here." Correia steps in for Jeff Karstens, kind of like he did Friday night by spinning four shutout innings after a hip-flexor strain had forced Karstens' exit in the first inning. Only this time it will be planned, and likely more permanent. Karstens continues to undergo medical evaluation, but when asked whether the switch was a one-time matter, Hurdle said, "Go with 'perhaps more.' Although for now we've scratched him only from this start." Locke more definitely becomes a regular cog in the September rotation. "I'm not under the assumption it's a one-shot deal," Hurdle said. Locke is ready after going 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA in his first full Triple-A season. "The confidence is through the roof," he said. "It won't be easier, but it'll be a lot more comfortable [than last September]." Last September, Locke went 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA in four starts.