PITTSBURGH -- By the first week of September of last season, the Pirates' postseason hopes had unraveled into a double-digit deficit in the National League Central. However, with a record of 74-74 as late as Sept 19, the Bucs still had a shot at that elusive winning record.
Fans, thus, were puzzled as Clint Hurdle planted rookies Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson into his rotation, and for much of September bypassed a couple of veterans (Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens) who did not figure to be part of the team's 2013 picture.
The Bucs went 2-7 in starts by Locke and McPherson, contributing to their 79-83 finish. That situation has been all but forgotten. But it shouldn't be. Locke serves a reminder every time he takes the mound, as he did Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Miami Marlins.
Elbow problems and a subsequent Tommy John operation have kept McPherson from profiting form the experience. But Locke has emerged as a surprising young left-handed ace in one of the Majors' top rotations. And much of his development is owed to that 2012 investment, which was by design.
"That was part of the thought," Hurdle said Tuesday, "to get Jeff's feet on the ground, and get him up and running. We had a young pitcher we thought would develop faster if given more reps. We wanted to give him the ball last year, and I do think that gave him the building blocks for everything he's been able to do this year.
"Organizational decisions are sometimes hard to make, and people on the outside don't get what you're doing. More often than not, if you're a fan of the Pirates, you want results now. Sometimes there's patience involved in building things, and we felt we were best served by giving reps to people who could help build this thing forward."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.