CINCINNATI -- As sure as the Pirates knew Gregory Polanco would arrive this season, they knew this, too, would come: That first extended, bona fide slump, in which he looks reasonably overmatched.
Polanco was in his usual place Saturday night, atop the lineup and in right field. He has not, however, been in Clint Hurdle's "good place" for a week. Polanco had three hits in his last 24 at-bats; all three came against a fellow Dominican pitcher (Carlos Martinez) with whom he was familiar. Friday night, he endured his second three-strikeout game in his last five starts.
"He's not swinging the bat very well right now," Hurdle conceded. "The league is punching back. And he had it all figured out in the first 10 days, according to everything I read. Amazing, isn't it?"
The 3-for-24 lull swooned Polanco's average to .271. He has fanned 10 times in those 24 at-bats, getting him extra time in batting coach Jeff Branson's hothouse.
"We're trying to get him back to a solid foundation," said Hurdle, proceeding to list what that entails. "Stand up tall at the plate, not a big swing, play aggressive pepper -- hit the ball hard where it's pitched. He got away from all that a bit recently."
To his credit, Polanco has maintained a solid .363 on-base percentage, drawing walks and scoring runs during his quiet week.
Locke down on walks: Lefty limiting free bases
CINCINNATI -- Baseball is all about numbers, but none have the double-take power of the number in Jeff Locke's walks column.
The left-hander has allowed six. All season, in eight starts and 56 innings. This is the same guy who led the National League in bases on balls last season. In 2013, he had two starts with at least six walks.
Pitching coach Ray Searage and manager Clint Hurdle advance several theories to explain the transformation, from pace to a growing reliance on his sharp changeup, and everything in between.
Really, however, it boils down to one thing: Locke has learned to trust his stuff.
"I'm trying to limit the walks as much as I can. Last season," Locke said, "it was the other way around: Limit the runs. If I walked them, it was no big deal, just don't let them score."
Keeping teams off the scoreboard is the ultimate objective, sure. The difference in Locke's new approach is it allows him to pitch deeper in games. He has already worked into the eighth inning four times, something he had never done before this season.
"That was the other goal this year, to go deeper," Locke said. "I'm getting ahead [in the count] and forcing them to swing, and guys are making plays behind me."
Asked for his own reaction when he looks at his walks column, Locke grinned and said, "I'm happy about it." And he probably has to take a second look, too.
First number, last word
14: Missed swings induced by Jeff Locke in his Friday night start against the Reds, matching a career high from Aug. 11 against the Rockies.
"It'd be a good thing for us to improve on that. We've got to, if we want to compete. But there's another, more important number here - it says '3 1/2 games out of first place.'" -- Manager Clint Hurdle, looking at Saturday's standings and the Bucs' 21-29 record against National League Central teams.
• The Bucs have finalized their starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break, but manager Clint Hurdle withheld announcing it until all of the involved pitchers have been told. The manager is expected to reveal the rotation, starting with Friday night's game at PNC Park against the Rockies, on Sunday.
• Clint Barmes, on the DL with a severe strain of his left groin, rejoined the club Saturday to continue getting treatment on his way to his Colorado home for the All-Star break.
• Entering Saturday's games, Andrew McCutchen had 25 percent more total bases since June 1 than the National League runner-up. McCutchen had 104 to Anthony Rizzo's 83.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.