Locked In

Jeff Locke breaks out in High-A




ATLANTAGrowing up in New Hampshire, Jeff Locke had little choice but to follow the Red Sox. Ironically, the lefthander may have had his coming-out party against the team's high Class A Salem affiliate, a feat that included taking no-hitters into the seventh inning in back-to-back starts.

"He's pitching very well and making the type of progress we believed he was capable of making," Braves farm director Kurt Kemp said. "Jeff has shown signs in the first month of the season of becoming a more complete pitcher, and the results are obvious on the field."

Drafted in the second round out of Kennett High (Conway, N.H.) in 2006, Locke, 21, has been brought along slowly due to his age as well as hailing from a cold-weather state. He enjoyed his first significant success in 2007 by going 7-1, 2.66 at Rookie-level Danville before pitching better than his 5-12, 4.06 mark at low Class A Rome last year would indicate.

"Every time he took the mound, it seemed like we couldn't score any runs," Rome manager Randy Ingle said. "But he never quit. His focus was the same every time he went out there. He could have easily hung his head, but he didn't."

Locke's tenacity as well as his three solid-average pitches has him making impressive progress. His fastball resides in the 91-94 mph range and possesses good movement. He throws a hard curveball that is proving effective in the Carolina League, while his changeup continues to improve its fade and depth. Locke's herky-jerky delivery also creates deception, which makes life that much more difficult for hitters.

The results have mirrored his development. In his first five starts this season, Locke had only one subpar performance, during which he allowed six earned runs and nine hits in 31⁄3 innings on April 20. He rebounded from that showing to allow a total of only four hits and one earned run over 13 2⁄3 frames against Salem. He was 1-2, 3.77 overall this season, with 29 strikeouts and 15 walks in 31 innings.

The one aspect Locke needs to improve upon is his command. Myrtle Beach pitching coach Guy Hansen has worked with Locke, who stands 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, on becoming more consistent in repeating his mechanics, which should upgrade his ability to place his pitches.

Wigwam Wisps

• Righthander Zeke Spruill continues to shine brightest among members of Atlanta's 2008 draft class. After a strong showing last year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Spruill opened the current campaign 4-0, 2.39 at Rome. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 23-to-5 in 26 1/3 innings was most impressive.

• Righthander Tommy Hanson's 1-3 record through six starts at Triple-A Gwinnett was not indicative the quality of his work. In 32 2⁄3 innings, Hanson had allowed only 21 hits and fanned 48 batters to go along with a 1.65 ERA.