PITTSBURGH (AP) — Two months ago, Jeff Locke was an All-Star and one of baseball's biggest surprises.
Now the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander might be one of the team's biggest question marks.
The Cincinnati Reds pounded Locke for five first-inning runs in an 11-3 rout on Sunday that dropped the Pirates into a tie with Cincinnati for the NL wild-card lead.
Locke (10-7) was lifted before the second inning and fell to 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA in the second half.
The glue of the starting rotation in the spring and early summer, his availability for the postseason if the Pirates get there is in serious jeopardy.
"I didn't come out of the gate sharp, that's for sure," Locke said. "I can't tell you what the rest of the outing might have looked like. We made the decision to get me out of there."
Manager Clint Hurdle said the team would re-evaluate Locke's status on Monday. Locke's next turn in the rotation would come on Saturday in Cincinnati, but an off day on Thursday gives Pittsburgh some flexibility heading into the final week of the regular season.
The Reds and Pirates each have magic numbers of two to close out Washington and clinch a playoff spot. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh trail NL Central leader St. Louis by 2 1-2 games, pending the Cardinals' night game at Milwaukee.
While the Reds are surging after winning five of six, the Pirates are scuffling. Pittsburgh finished just 5-6 in their final homestand of a breakout season and head to Chicago for a three-game series with the Cubs hoping to re-establish some momentum before reconvening with the Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Friday.
Neil Walker hit his 13th homer of the season, but the Pirates failed to create some breathing room between themselves and the Reds with just six games remaining.