It started out so well for Jeff Locke. But it didn’t end that way.
Locke, who made easy work of the Chicago Cubs with a nifty seven-pitch first inning, was done after four when the defending World Series champs put the hammer down in an 11-1 victory over the Marlins on Thursday night at Marlins Park.
“Jeff didn’t look very sharp at all,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It didn’t look like his stuff was that good tonight.”
Locke’s outing was yet another signal that the starting rotation for the Marlins remains a soft spot. Projected as a long man out of the bullpen when the Marlins signed the lefty over the winter, Locke (0-3) was thrust into the starting mix the second he came off the disabled list at the beginning of June.
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Though he pitched well in his first start on June 1 against Arizona, the Marlins (32-39) have lost all five of his starts since his return from the DL. And he hasn’t made it past the fourth inning in either of his two most recent outings.
“The first [start] seemed really crisp,” Mattingly said. “But all the outings have been similar since. They don’t seem like we’re getting deep into the game.”
Locke’s first inning aside, it was a challenging outing for the southpaw. He barely survived a 34-pitch second inning in which the Cubs (37-35) scored their first two runs, then ran completely out of gas in the fourth when Chicago put three more on the board, with Kris Bryant’s three-run homer ensuring his departure.
“It was a long inning, for sure,” Locke said of the grueling second inning. “You wish they could all be like the first.”
But Locke didn’t blame fatigue for his problems. He pointed the blame at his continuing inability to close out innings, something he failed to do again on Thursday.
Bryant’s homer — his 16th of the season — came with two outs after Locke walked Anthony Rizzo.
“[It’s been] a constant struggle so far finishing off innings,” Locke said. “It’s been the No. 1 thing for me, really. Unfortunately, there’s three outs to an inning, not just two. That’s what we’ve had a real hard time with. That’s where our hiccup’s been right now, and that needs to change.”
Not that the Cubs took it any easier on the bullpen. Addison Russell homered off Dustin McGowan in the fifth and Willson Contreras launched a two-run shot in the sixth off Junichi Tazawa, who was activated from the disabled list just before Thursday’s game. Tazawa has now given up five home runs in only 16 innings.
Russell went 4 for 5 with a single, home run and a pair of doubles.
The Marlins offered little offensively against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.
Marcell Ozuna opened the second inning with his 20th home run of the year. But Arrieta silenced the Marlins’ bats thereafter. Arrieta (7-5) made it through seven innings, holding the Marlins to just the one run on six hits.
“When we get a big home run from Ozuna, you’ve got to keep the game where it is, put the team in a position to stay in the game,” Locke said of Ozuna’s solo blast, which cut the Cubs lead to 2-1.
But that didn’t happen, and it’s back to the drawing board for Locke.
“You don’t know what the result of the pitch is going to be before you throw it,” Locke said. “If you did, you might do some things differently.”