A National League All-Star last year, Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke will begin this season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis.
A reserve outfielder who signed a minor-league contract with the A’s in January, Sam Fuld apparently will begin the season on the Oakland roster.
With spring training nearing its conclusion, the two New Hampshire natives — Locke is from Conway, Fuld from Durham — had their Opening Day destinations determined this past weekend. Locke’s was dictated by an injury suffered early in camp. Fuld’s was influenced by an injury to a teammate.
Locke is fine with his demotion. For now.
Discomfort in his right oblique derailed Locke’s schedule after his first Grapefruit League outing Feb. 27. He skipped his next start but still felt out of sorts. Locke has spent the past couple of weeks rehabbing the injury.
With less than a week left in spring training, Locke, a graduate of Conway’s Kennett High School and two-time New Hampshire Union Leader high school player of the year, finally is ready to get back on the mound. He threw a 45-pitch bullpen session Saturday and tentatively is scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“About a week ago, I realized I wasn’t going to make it for the (start of the) season,” Locke said Sunday. “I just ran out of time to get stretched out. That’s OK with me. If that’s how it has to be, that’s how it will be.
“It’s just that sometimes, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, and you want to know how you can get inside. All I can do is take care of myself. The Pirates will do what they have to do, too. Ultimately, they’ll take the best 25 guys north. I said that last year when I made the club, and I say it again now when I’m not making it. That’s just the way it is.”
A year ago, Locke outpitched Kyle McPherson during spring training to win the No. 5 spot in the rotation. It turned out McPherson might have been hurt during camp; he made two short, disastrous starts at Indy before having season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Locke won eight consecutive starts in the first half of the season but was scratched from his final start before the All-Star Game because of a sore lower back. After the break, he went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA and was shut down in September.
“When he tweaked his back, he had to get off the strength program he was doing in between starts,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “So it became getting up on the mound every fifth day without doing all of the maintenance work that he had been able to keep in play. It wasn’t the same fight for him. But many lessons were learned.”
When he hurt his oblique this spring, Locke didn’t want to be shut down entirely again. He realizes what he needs to do to get back on the mound sooner.
“I’ve put together a slightly different pre-throw routine this spring, just making sure I’m good and hot when I go out there,” Locke said. “I’m not taking any chances of being cold or tight anywhere. It’s something that’s kind of non-baseball related, but we still learn things every day. I’m feeling really good and very confident about the season.”
When the Pirates gave Edinson Volquez a $5 million contract this past winter, Locke knew he would have a difficult time regaining a rotation spot. The oblique injury clinched his assignment to Indy, although the team hasn’t finalized that move.
“So many people wondered, ‘What about Jeff Locke?’ We haven’t,” said general manager Neal Huntington, an Amherst, N.H., native. “We still believe we’ve got a guy with quality major league pitches who gets ground balls. His challenge is finding consistency in the strike zone. He’s going to help us at some point this season.”
Locke made a combined 29 starts with Indianapolis in 2011 and 2012. He doesn’t want to spend much more time there but realizes he has to answer questions about his durability.
“Absolutely, there’s a bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Locke said. “As a player, you always want to prove your worth. You always want to contribute or at least put forth something that shows why you’re here.”
At A’s camp in Phoenix, meanwhile, manager Bob Melvin announced that outfielder Craig Gentry would participate only in minor-league games for the remainder of spring training and would open the season on the disabled list. That likely secured a major-league roster spot for Fuld — at least for the time being.
By avoiding big-league games for the rest of the spring, Gentry will be eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, April 5, having missed only the first five games of the season.
There is an out in Fuld’s contract allowing him to becoming a free agent if he isn’t on the Opening Day roster, so the A’s will be able to keep him, even if they have to send him down after Gentry is ready.
One of the game’s best defensive outfielders and an excellent baserunner, Fuld has had very good spring with the bat, hitting .300 with a .386 on-base percentage, one home run and an .886 on-base-plus-slugging in 50 at-bats over 18 games through Sunday.
Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported from Pirates camp in Bradenton, Fla. John Hickey of the Oakland Tribune reported from A’s camp in Phoenix.