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Locke caps memorable Bucs rotation turn

PITTSBURGH -- It's impossible to quantify the effect one night's starting pitcher might have on the next's. But for the Pirates' staff, momentum is a real thing.

The last turn through their rotation, it's been a very good thing, too. Left-hander Jeff Locke completed a dominant one-through-five performance for the Bucs' rotation on Tuesday night, overcoming four walks to hold the Marlins scoreless for 5 2/3 innings as the Pirates won their fifth straight game, 5-1.

"I think this stretch of ball we're playing right now is the best ball we've played this season," Locke said. "Everything's better when you win."

Locke wasn't perfect, nor was he as overpowering as Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton over the long Memorial Day weekend. But he got the job done Tuesday, lowering the Pirates' rotation ERA over the last five games to a miniscule 1.06.

"That's everybody's goal out there, to come in and respectfully outdo each other any way we can," Locke said. "The better Cole pitches, the better A.J., Frankie, Charlie, the better those guys do, the better this team's going to do."

The Pirates' bats have also heated up with the weather, scoring 30 runs during their recent winning streak. But it all starts on the mound.

Cole made a statement in Friday's series opener against the Mets, striking out 10 over a career-high 8 1/3 innings. Burnett followed suit, punching out 10 in seven innings.

Then came Liriano, fanning 12 in six innings. Morton bolstered the back end of the rotation in his return from the disabled list Monday, allowing two runs in seven ground-ball-heavy innings.

Add it all up, and Pirates starters were charged with only four runs in 34 innings spanning five games.

"We like to think it all starts with us, especially at home. We get to set the tempo in the first inning," Locke said. "We take a lot of pride in that. You just want to pick up where they left off."

Locke may have technically started this run his last time out, rebounding from a three-run first inning against the Twins on Wednesday with five scoreless innings after that.

The Pirates' rotation picked up and ran with that momentum, and they believe their run won't end with Locke's outing Tuesday.

"It's kind of the way we've drawn things up, the way we were able to evolve over the last couple seasons and this season. We pitch it first," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You're not going to go anywhere if you can't pitch it.

"We've got guys that can pitch in the starting rotation. We've got guys who can back them up."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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