PITTSBURGH -- Because there is no such thing as a perfect world, not even one in which the Pirates own MLB's best record on Aug. 7, we offer these two sets of figures:
(A) 9-3, 2.37 ERA; 28 hits allowed in 20 innings.
(B) 8-2, 2.15 ERA; 28 hits allowed in 22 1/3 innings.
What do they denote? (A) is James McDonald's performance in the first half of last season, followed by his line in his first four starts coming out of the All-Star break. (B) is the same breakdown for Jeff Locke.
An interesting set of circumstances and perhaps unsettling, but no indication that history will repeat. The lefty Locke achieved his first-half success differently than McDonald, who overpowered hitters before the stuff vanished in the blink of an eye (likely affected by shoulder issues from which he is still trying to recover). Locke is a control pitcher, and it's his turn in the adjustment game with Major League hitters.
"It's part of the learning process, facing the different challenges that unfold in this part of the season," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Jeff is experiencing counter-punching from the league."
Locke counter-punched himself Tuesday night after the Marlins had jumped him for eight hits and three runs in two-plus innings. He blanked them on only one more hit over the next 3 2/3, after pitching coach Ray Searage visited the mound to tell him to pick up the pace.
"I'm somebody who needs to work quick on the mound," Locke said. "I'm a get-the-ball-and-go type of guy. Ray chirped at me, 'No thinking. You're going a little slow.' I agree; sometimes you have to take a step back and take a breath, but you don't want to give that guy too many seconds after that last pitch to figure out what might be coming next."