PITTSBURGH - Jeff Locke is the likely candidate to head back to the minor leagues when Francisco Liriano comes off the disabled list for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Locke is making that decision as difficult as possible.
He didn't get a decision in Tuesday's start against Arizona, but he pitched well again.
Locke was an All-Star last season, but his season went off the rails so badly in the second half that the Pirates left him off the postseason roster.
Now he's making a strong case to work his way back into the rotation.
"He's throwing more strikes," manager Clint Hurdle said. "His command is in a better place than it was last season. There are more leveraged counts in his favor. That's been the biggest thing.
"You look at the walks to strikeouts ratio right now compared to what it was last year at any time. The number of counts he's been ahead, as opposed to last year. That's the biggest thing. He's maybe not trying to shave as much. I think a first-year pitcher, they want to make really good pitches and they want to live on the edges."
That changes with experience, Hurdle believes.
"Once they get some time under their belt, they realize there's more to it than that," he said. "They realize they need to throw strikes, get ahead and get quick outs. He's doing more of that now."
Locke was bothered by a back injury last season that hampered him in the second half of the season. He tried to pitch through it, but struggled.
Locke came to spring training this season with virtually no chance to make the opening day roster. The Pirates brought him up for one spot start, then brought him back when Liriano's oblique injury and the release of Wandy Rodriguez created openings.
Liriano pitched a simulated game on Wednesday afternoon, and could soon head out for a minor league rehab assignment. He is expected back after the All-Star break.
His return could send Locke back to Class AAA Indianapolis for six weeks, until the Sept. 1 roster expansion. Locke can be optioned back without going through waivers.
That same technicality got Brandon Cumpton sent back to the minors recently.
Even if Locke goes back, his performance has let the staff know he's in play for a 2015 rotation berth. There will be openings.
"Through experience, he's found that he needs to compete better," Hurdle said. "He knows he has pretty good strike-throwing ability."
What a month
Andrew McCutchen was named National League Player of the Month for June, the third time he's been honored that way in his career.
He had a .343 batting average, .410 on-base percentage, 12 doubles, eight home runs and 25 runs batted in.
"I'm honored and grateful and I thank God for the opportunity," McCutchen said. "I couldn't do it without my teammates. We're playing some good ball, and it's starting to show."
Former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Jim Rooker co-owned a bar/restaurant in Ambridge for more than 20 years.
Rooker sold his interest a few years ago, but much of his memorabilia collection was part of the deal when Rook's was sold. The walls were lined with photographs and other keepsakes from Rooker's career.
The business was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Wednesday, and all the memorabilia was also lost.