Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers get limited looks in the batter's box

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Normalcy returned to McKechnie Field on Monday morning.

It was written right there on the lineup card attached to a wall in the Pittsburgh Pirates' clubhouse.

Nine names were listed for Monday's game against Baltimore Orioles as opposed to the 10 that were normally there.

The reason?

Jeff Locke stepped up to the plate.

The former Bradenton Marauder and 25-year-old lefty is looking to win a job in the Pirates' starting rotation. Monday, however, he became the first Pirates pitcher to bat this spring after the team used a designated hitter for the first 16 games.

Rest assured, baseball purists -- the National League isn't planning to go the way of the American League and let someone else hit for the pitcher.

During spring training, however, the host chooses whether each team will use a designated hitter or let the pitcher hit. National League teams use the DH option early in the schedule in order to get more guys some swings.

And considering pitchers rarely go more than one or two innings during their first few starts, they are out of the game before their spot in the order comes up anyway.

"Doesn't make sense to (bat) your starting pitcher," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, "when he's pitching two innings. So we'll take advantage of it."

The Pirates already have, especially in the case of catch

er Russell Martin. Stricken with a sore shoulder, Martin still got his swings in as a DH without having to put any strain on his throwing arm before he was able to resume catching duties Sunday. On Monday, however, there was Locke, grounding out on a 2-1 pitch in the third inning.

He was hoping to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which is a pitcher's prime objective when it comes to the offensive side of the ball.

But Michael McKenry, the Pirates' No. 8 hitter, struck out looking. So with no one on base, Locke was free to swing away.

"You've got to get back out there, you've got to get your reps," Locke said. "It would have been ideal if I would have gotten a chance to bunt in that situation, because that's what we're going to be doing a lot more than swinging."

Pitchers are rarely integral keys to a team's offense. To wit, the Washington Nationals' hurlers hit .164 last year, which was tops in the National League.

But the Pirates hit just .100, tied with Miami for lowest in the league. And their pitchers were also tied for last in hits (29) and dead last in RBIs (six).

"You have to see some pitches in there," said Locke, who has one hit in 18 big-league at-bats, "it's part of your job."

The Grapefruit League standings have no bearing on what happens during the regular season, which is good for the Pirates considering 12 of their last 15 spring training games will be against American League teams using a DH.

"It gets a little tiresome late in the spring, when you continue to hit your pitcher and they're hitting their DH and he's hitting fourth," Hurdle said with a laugh. "There's somewhat of a competitive advantage there."

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