June 04, 2016

Jeff Locke has had his share of ups and downs in his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he never felt as good as he did after his last outing.

Coming off his first career shutout, the left-hander will try to play the role of stopper for the struggling Pirates as he looks to win a career-high fourth consecutive start Saturday against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.

It seems like Locke has been pitching to keep his rotation spot for much of his career. This season has been no different as speculation has grown as to when Pittsburgh will promote prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.

Locke (4-3, 4.33 ERA) was a sure candidate to be replaced with a 5.45 ERA after allowing six runs in 5 1/3 innings in an 8-2 loss at Wrigley Field on May 14. However, he's since solidified his footing with three straight wins.

Locke has posted a 2.42 ERA over that span after tossing a three-hitter Monday in a 10-0 win at Miami. He only struck out one but never threw more than 16 pitches in an inning and coaxed the Marlins into 13 groundouts.

"He's throwing every pitch with conviction," catcher Francisco Cervelli told the league's official website. "You have to know what kind of guy you are, what kind of pitcher you are, and you can have success like he did."

Cervelli won't start in this one after being drilled on the foot Thursday.

Locke looks to continue his efficient approach and keep the ball down as he tries to help the Pirates (29-25) avoid their first five-game slide since May 2015. They lost for the sixth time in their last seven in Friday's 9-2 defeat.

Entering the series, the Angels (25-29) led the majors by grounding into 53 double plays and had hit among the most ground balls in the AL with 697.

That wasn't a problem in the opener as Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and Johnny Giavotella each finished with two hits and two RBIs. Los Angeles has won three of its past four games and is averaging 6.2 runs over its last five.

"We're not going to score nine runs every night, but it's more along the lines of what we were seeing coming out of spring training," manager Mike Scioscia said.

Scioscia will give the ball to Jhoulys Chacin after scheduled starter Nick Tropeano was scratched due to an undisclosed ailment. He'll work on regular rest thanks to Thursday's off day after he allowed one run and struck out a season-high 10 in a complete-game 5-1 victory over Detroit on Monday.

The right-hander, who went the distance for the first time since 2011, is 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA in four starts since coming over from Atlanta on May 11.

"I feel healthy, I feel like my arm is just getting stronger every time," he said. "Hopefully it just stays that way the whole season."

Chacin (2-3, 4.42) has gone 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA in five starts against the Pirates, but he hasn't faced them since August 2013. Andrew McCutchen has seen him the most, going 4 for 12 with a home run.

Pittsburgh has totaled eight runs while batting .162 during the losing streak, though Starling Marte was 3 for 4 with his fifth home run on Friday and Jung Ho Kang went 2 for 4 with his seventh homer.

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