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Dunlap: Is The Problem Really Jeff Locke?

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) - Jeff Locke is a fifth starter.

Maybe a fourth starter when he's performing at the very, very, very tippy top of his game.

Jeff Locke --- as much as I like him as a person --- is not a top of the rotation guy, a near the top of the rotation guy or, heck, even a third starter.

He is what he is.

So it's probably about time to accept as much.

You see, I did it a long time ago – it was best for my mental health. I understood that Locke was going to probably infuriate you if you didn't realize he would look really good one start, plain awful in another start and, when you jumble all his starts together be about an average pitcher.

Or, to put it another way --- he's a fifth starter.

All that said, as Jeff Locke had his second consecutive meltdown on Wednesday night against the New York Mets --- where he gave up 7 earned runs in just 4 innings --- it brought out the pitchforks. It brought out those "get him outta here!" talk show callers and people pretty much willing to take a day off work and drive him all the way to The Land of DFA.

But is he really the problem with the rotation?

I don't know.

Before the last two starts --- which were admittedly awful --- the Pirates won four consecutive times Locke pitched. He had a 3.98 ERA in May, a 3-1 record and gave up 18 earned runs over 40 innings of work. This season, he's been good enough to get five wins (admittedly a flawed stat) in the 13 games he's started. He went through a hot streak where he was 4-0 with a 2.76 ERA.

So is he the problem? I don't know. He just seems like a fifth starter to me. A supplemental piece to hopefully hold the fort down and get you through some innings.

The problem with this rotation has been the underachievement of Francisco Liriano and the injury to Gerrit Cole. Who knows how long Cole will be out --- and that should cause worry. Lots of worry.

Also, Liriano mustering just a 4-6 record and posting a 4.92 ERA to this point should cause oodles of worry. So too should the fact that he's walked 41 batters in 67 innings. That's a huge worry.

So, when you really look at things, it's easy to come down on Jeff Locke. But, for my money, he's pitching the way a guy named Jeff Locke probably pitches. If Liriano was pitching anywhere near his expectations and Gerrit Cole's status didn't involve an injury uncertainty, we wouldn't be paying anywhere near the attention we are to Jeff Locke.

Those other things --- Liriano being dreadful this year and Cole being hurt --- are true problems.

Locke probably isn't. He just is what he is.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan." You can e-mail him at Check out his bio here.

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