Locke takes step forward in rotation audition

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jeff Locke is getting used to pitching at JetBlue Park. If the Pirates played in the American League East, that could be seen as a positive sign about his ability to pitch at Fenway. Instead, he'll take his strong outing on Wednesday as a step in the right direction along the path of getting ready for life in the National League Central.

In his third start of the spring, and second straight here in Fort Myers, Locke went four solid innings, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out three in Pittsburgh's 9-3 victory. It was a much better performance than his last JetBlue appearance, when the lefty yielded three runs over three innings on Friday.

"I was pretty happy with everything today," Locke said. "The only thing I wasn't really happy with was getting two quick outs and stuff happened. Everything felt really good today. I can't stress enough how much better it feels to come back here a week later and pitch better, regardless of who it's against."

Locke ran into that two-out trouble in the third after two perfect frames to start things out against a Red Sox lineup that wasn't exactly chock full of regulars. He retired the first two batters quickly to run his streak to eight consecutive batters retired when Pedro Ciriaco singled. Ciriaco eventually came around to score on a Jonny Gomes double. Locke gave up a one-out double in the fourth, followed by a walk, but just like in the third, he was able to dance out of trouble.

"That was one of the bright spots for him today, because he was behind in the count while he was out there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The fact that he made pitches, he stayed away from the big inning, they scratched him for the one run, no more damage than that, he went out there four times, it was a good step forward for him.

"He had a much better outing than the last time he was here. Everything was fresher, everything was a little cleaner with a better downhill angle, a better quality of strikes when he was throwing."

"I was able to throw more pitches in the strike zone and keep the ball down a lot better," Locke said, in comparison to his last JetBlue outing. "There were some pretty well-stroked balls, but that's just a part of baseball. For me, personally, with it being Spring Training and you're preparing yourself for the season, it was definitely a step in the right direction today. I mixed up my pitches and I was able to get quality work from the windup and the stretch."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow