Southpaw Supremacy

Trio of Left-Handed Pitchers Bolsters Tribe's Rotation

By Alex McCarthy / | July 4, 2012 7:26 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- When starting pitcher Jeff Locke was traded to the Single-A Lynchburg Hillcats in 2009, he experienced more than just a change from the Atlanta Braves' system to the Pittsburgh Pirates' system.

"It was definitely weird," Locke, now with the Indians, said. "I'd never been part of a trade before. I was 21 years old. I went from Myrtle Beach to Lynchburg, Virginia, and it was an eye-opener."

At Myrtle Beach, he had been just a mile and a half away from the beach and lived near downtown. In Lynchburg, the Jersey Mike's sub shop was a big deal.

Locke had pitched with fellow lefties such as Erik Cordier, currently with Gwinnett, and that remained the same when he came to Lynchburg. When he arrived, a fellow 21-year-old southpaw named Justin Wilson was in the rotation, and by the end of the year, another lefty, Rudy Owens, joined them.

"From A-ball, Rudy, Wilson and myself have kind of been a core group of starters," Locke said. "We work hard together, compete with each other, but it's friendly competition all the time."

All three of the pitchers were left-handed, and at the time, they were all 21. While Wilson chosen to attend college at Fresno State, Owens and Locke had gone straight from high school to professional baseball.

Locke and Wilson were roommates on road trips, and by the end of the year, the two of them became close friends and decided to live together. To this day, they still share an apartment.

"We're just used to each other," Wilson said. "We pretty much have the same routine as far as getting to the yard early or whatever it may be and getting home and doing what we can to relax and check out for a while."

The trio of southpaws continued to play together at Double-A Altoona in 2010 and with the Curve, they combined for a 26-16 record with a 2.90 ERA in 350.1 innings pitched.

Indians pitching coach Tom Filer said the three left-handers often help each other make adjustments, which allows them to build off each others' success.

"Left-handers aren't easy to hit for some reason, and I think that's to our advantage," Filer said. "These guys are getting to see what the other guy's doing and they're learning from one another."

In 2011, Owens and Wilson moved up to Triple-A Indianapolis, but Locke stayed at Altoona for much of the season. Locke said the three pitchers always seem to do better when they're on the same roster for some reason, and he badly wanted to move up to Indianapolis.

"I can't say enough about those two guys and how well we seem to always pitch together when we're all in the same place," Locke said. "When I was in Altoona, things were rough last year. Rudy and Wilson were up here and, God, I just wanted to get where they were at again so we could all get working together."

Wilson missed his teammate and roommate during much of the season, even though he put together a 10-8 campaign while spending time in both the rotation and the bullpen.

"I was waiting for him all year, basically until he got up," Wilson said. "It was awesome to see him come up here and have the success he did and then get a call in September."

Finally, Locke made his way to Indianapolis and pitched well enough to get called up to the Pirates in September, starting four games. Owens attributed part of the success to the way they think and prepare for games.

"We're all lefties, so we all think weird," Owens said. "I guess that's something in common, but everybody's got their own way of preparing for the game, and you've just got to stick to it and make it work."

While Owens noted the similarities between the three, Locke acknowledged that they have very distinct styles of pitching.

"We're all left-handed, but we all do things differently," Locke said. "Justin's a big power guy. He gets a lot of strikeouts and doesn't give up a lot of hits, but he might walk a few guys. I give up a few more hits, but I don't walk as many guys. Rudy just doesn't give up hits or walk anybody, so he's the guy we're trying to be like."

All three have stayed true to Locke's assessment, as Wilson leads the team in strikeouts and Owens has one of the best WHIPs in the league at 1.05.

The three remain good friends, which Owens said benefits them and the team as a whole.

"It's pretty cool being able to be on the same team with good friends you've come up through the system with," Owens said. "We've built good friendships throughout the years and I think it's good for the team to have that just to keep on rolling and keep pushing each other throughout the season."

Owens, Wilson and Locke have lockers next to each other and closely examine each others ' pitching performances, often talking during and after games about what went right and what went wrong during the outing.

"Who would I rather pick brains with than two other lefties?" Locke said. "They're in the same spot I'm in and those guys are going to get a chance to see what the big leagues are like real soon."

Wilson looks forward to a possible call-up, but said he has a big-league vision of not just one or two of them wearing Pirates jerseys soon.

"That would be awesome to be able to share what we've done at these other levels coming up together at the big league level," Wilson said. "Of course, that's all of our goals, hopefully that one of these days, we're all three up there in the same rotation."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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