TAMPA, Fla. -- Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke was pitching for only the feel of his pitches and of the setting. But even he conceded that the pitching line, February or not, mattered.
Coming off his precipitous second half of the 2013 season, crooked numbers in his first appearance of 2014 may have goaded alarmists. Instead, Locke turned the page, and turned away the Yankees, in Pittsburgh's 8-2 win.
"It's better to have good ones than bad ones, whether or not that's your focus," Locke said after his first competitive outing since Sept. 22.
Yes, counting their playoff run, the Pirates did not play their final game until Oct. 9. But the plug was pulled earlier on Locke, to give him an early start in making a physical and mental recovery from that 7.08 ERA in August-September.
"To get in that environment again, just to see someone with a different uniform digging his spikes in the dirt ... for me that was a big bonus, it's fun to compete," Locke said. "And to play in a place [George M. Steinbrenner Field] like this, sure -- it's the Yankees, no matter how you slice it."
Locke sliced them up nicely. One strikeout, one fly to shallow center and five grounders, including a topped ball to second by Brett Gardner that went for the infield single that was the only hit off him.
One of the groundouts he induced was by Derek Jeter.
"I don't care if it's Whiffle ball, it's cool. That's someone I idolized as a kid," said Locke, the New England native and Red Sox fan. "He was the only Yankee I gave a pass to. It was very special to take the field with him."
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.