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Locke is sharp in Grapefruit League opener

Jeff Locke got his and the Pittsburgh Pirates Grapefruit League preseason off on the right Saturday afternoon. Locke tossed three scoreless no-hit innings and picked up the win in a 3-2 victory over the host Tampa Rays before 4,436 spectators at Charlotte Sports Park.

Locke, the son of Pam and Alan Locke of Redstone, was sharp all afternoon, really sharp and more importantly looked like a serious contender for the fifth spot in the rotation. He and right-hander Kyle McPherson are vying for the fifth spot in camp. McPherson allowed one hit over two innings of scoreless ball on Monday against the Minnesota Twins.

"I've known Kyle a long time — he was here when I was traded here (from Atlanta in 2009) and he made me very comfortable," the 25-year-old lefty said. "I'll tell you what I've told everyone who's asked me: they're going to take the best 25 guys for the team. It may be Kyle, it may be me, it may be both of us, but I know we're both going to work hard and appreciate the opportunity."

Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought all of the pitchers looked sharp for the first spring training game.

"Jeff's had a lot of deception on his (slider)," Maddon said. "I saw strikes and deception with both of them."

Locke, who has a chance to earn a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training, walked one and struck out one without allowing a hit.

"I got to start the game, so you get back into that starter's routine," Locke said to the Pittburgh-Post Gazette. "I was able to get my stretch and my pregame and everything with the catcher prior to the game."

Manager Clint Hurdle said Locke had 35 to 40 pitches to work with. He threw 32, 19 for strikes.

"He was very efficient today," Hurdle said. "It was a very good outing for him. Very encouraged that he was able to get out for the third inning and then finish it off as well."

Locke got seven groundballs in facing nine batters over his smooth three innings of work. It looked effortless for the southpaw.

Locke, the Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Organization Pitcher of the Year, recorded his first Major League win Oct. 1, spinning a two-hitter over six innings to beat the Atlanta Braves, the team that originally drafted him.

Locke, who was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Pitcher of the Year for Triple-A Indianapolis, went 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA and 131 strikeouts over 141 2/3 innings in 24 starts for the Indianapolis Indians last summer. He was very impressive in his final six minor league games, posting a 0.75 ERA with 41 strikeouts over 36 innings.

"He's made a lot of progress," Hurdle told the Pirates' official website. "The next step is to check it out here."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this story.
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