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May 03. 2014 11:55PM

On Baseball: Conway's Locke may be back in Pittsburgh on Monday


Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke delivers a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field last August. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite a less than stellar start to his season in Triple-A, Conway's Jeff Locke could be back pitching in the majors this week.

Locke - who started the season on the disabled list, did a rehab stint in Single-A and then was assigned to Indianapolis on April 11 - may start for the Pirates against the Giants, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said on Friday.

Named to the National League All-Star team last year but left off the postseason roster after a second-half slump, Locke is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in four starts with Indianapolis. His last start came on Thursday, a day earlier than his regular turn in the rotation, when he pitched just two innings at Pawtucket, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk.

The abbreviated outing, as well as its timing, was by design, the Pirates prepping Locke as a possible fill-in to their injury-depleted major-league staff.

A 26-year-old left-hander, Locke last year had a 10-7 record and 3.52 ERA, with 125 strikeouts and a league-high 99 walks in 30 starts. But he went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA after the All-Star break and this year landed on the DL after suffering an oblique injury during spring training.

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AS DOUBLE-A pitching debuts go, Matt Boyd's was unremarkable by Manchester standards.

Called up from Single-A Dunedin a day earlier, Boyd made his first start for the Fisher Cats in the first half of Thursday's doubleheader and lasted four innings, getting no decision in a game New Hampshire came from behind to win, 4-3, over Trenton.

A 23-year-old left-hander who last year at this time was pitching for Oregon State, Boyd was impressive in settling down after a rocky first inning that saw the Yankees farmhands collect three hits and a 2-0 lead. From there on, he allowed just two hits and a walk over three scoreless innings before leaving with his pitch count at 90.

Boyd had gone 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA with Dunedin to start the season, so there was some anticipation that Thursday night's start had been something special.

Longtime regulars at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium recall Justin Verlander's Double-A debut in New Hampshire as a Tigers prospect in 2005, when he struck out the first six Fisher Cats he faced and wound up fanning 11 over seven shutout innings at what was then Merchantsauto.com Stadium.

The following season, Matt Garza, then in the Twins system, struck out 13 and held the Fishers to one hit over 7-2/3 innings in his first game at the Double-A level, also in Manchester.

A year after that, then-Red Sox prospect Justin Masterson made his Double-A debut in Manchester and pitched 6-2/3 hitless innings with one walk before pitch count led to what seemed to be a premature exit.

So while Boyd's first game in Double-A hardly qualified as bad, it wasn't on a par with The NEDD's most memorable debuts.

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HAD HE not been released due to a roster logjam last month, Durham native Sam Fuld would be in Boston with the A's this weekend. But Super Sam is doing quite well with his new team, thank you, putting up a slash line of .323/.382/.866 in eight games with the Twins through Friday.

In addition to doing the job with the bat, Fuld has been playing his typically brilliant defense. In the first inning of a 3-0 loss to visiting Baltimore Friday night, he crashed into the center-field wall to rob Manny Machado of extra bases, adding to a lengthy highlight reel of spectacular catches.

Overall this season, the Phillips Exeter Academy graduate was batting .262 with a home run and three stolen bases heading into Saturday's game against the O's.

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IF YOU want to see Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts play against the Fisher Cats, you might consider heading to Portland next weekend rather than waiting for the Sea Dogs to visit New Hampshire Memorial Day weekend.

Betts went hitless in four at-bats Friday night, his hitting streak ending at 17 games, but he extended his on-base streak to 53 games and remained above .400 in batting average entering Saturday's doubleheader at Binghamton. His numbers through Friday: .412 average, .468 OBP, 1.128 OPS, 4 home runs, 10 stolen bases and four more walks than strikeouts (12-8).

Currently Portland's regular second baseman, Betts, 21, may still be a Sea Dog when Memorial Day weekend rolls around, but he's heading to Pawtucket sometime in the not-too-distant future - what position he'll play there is a topic for another day - so there's a chance he may never set foot inside The NEDD.

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WHEN Sanbornton's Jordan Cote went a week without pitching after his longest outing of the season, it raised the question of whether the 21-year-old reliever was hurt. Not to worry, said Sean Houston, director of media relations for the Charleston RiverDogs, Cote's team in the Class-A South Atlantic League.

"We've had a day off, plus some rain-shortened games and some long starts by starters," Houston wrote in an email before Friday night's game. "Just hasn't been his turn to pitch."

Sure enough, the former Winnisquam Regional of Tilton right-hander was back in action Friday night, but the long layoff apparently had knocked him out of his groove. After holding opponents scoreless in his previous three outings, Cote allowed a pair of runs on four hits and a couple of walks over 1-1/3 innings, taking the loss in a 4-3 defeat against the same Delmarva team he'd dominated eight days earlier.

Cote, in his third professional season and first as a reliever after being drafted by the Yankees out of Winnisquam in 2011, earned his first save with three near-perfect innings against Delmarva on April 24. He allowed only one baserunner - Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Yaz, who reached on a single - while lowering his ERA to 0.64.

Friday's outing dropped him to 1-1 and inflated his ERA to 3.72.

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AFTER suffering one of the worst starts of his career - eight runs (six earned) on five hits and five walks in one-third of an inning on April 23 - Salem High grad Terry Doyle bounced back with one of his better performances of the season last week.

A 28-year-old right-hander pitching for the Birmingham Barons, the White Sox' affiliates in the Double-A Southern League, Doyle allowed just two runs (both earned) over six innings, scattering six hits and two walks, and striking out five. He was not involved in the decision, his record remaining 2-2 while his ERA dipped to 5.25.

April was that kind of month for the journeyman out of Boston College - back in the organization that drafted him in 2008 after stints with affiliates of the Twins and Red Sox, as well as a brief tour of Japan - who has made five starts this season. In his three best outings, he compiled a 1.96 ERA over 18-1/3 innings. In his two worst, his ERA was 15.88 over just 5-2/3.

His next start is scheduled for today, at home against Mobile.

Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News deputy managing editor. Email him at vsylvia@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter @vinsylvia.


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