I didn’t get to see the start by Charlie Morton tonight, but by all accounts, I’m glad I missed it. I was actually at dinner with my family when the game started. My Dad was following along on MLB At-Bat, and giving me the play by play of the first inning. After hearing that Morton walked the first batter and gave up a single to the next batter, then balked both over, I kind of knew what was coming. Sure enough, a home run two batters later, making it 3-0 to start the game. That was followed by another homer to the next batter.
I’ve been in the camp that Morton needs to stay in the majors and try to get things figured out in the majors. Morton had a successful season in 2009. He only had the bad start in Chicago, but every other outing was good. It’s starting to look like that one bad outing was something that Morton is capable of, mixed in with his usual good starts. The problem this year is that he hasn’t had many good starts.
Morton was horrible in April, with a 12.57 ERA in 19.1 innings of work. However, at the end of the month he started showing signs of turning things around:
-On April 30th, he went six innings, allowing three runs on six hits, walking two and striking out eight.
-On May 5th he went six innings, allowing two runs on five hits, with no walks and three strikeouts.
-On May 11th he went six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, with two walks and four strikeouts.
-On May 22nd he went six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits, with three walks and three strikeouts.
Morton had a bad outing on May 17th, allowing six runs on six hits in four innings, with no walks and three strikeouts. However, he looked like he was improving in the other four outings.
From all accounts tonight, he was horrible. It makes you wonder if leaving him in the rotation is a good plan. I was listening to Rocco DeMaro after the game, while working on some posts for the weekend, and based on Rocco’s description, it sounded like Morton lacked confidence in his pitches, constantly changing his approach, and changing pitch speeds from pitch to pitch.
In one hand, you’ve got Brian Burres, who shouldn’t be in the rotation, and who has a 5.40 ERA in 36.2 innings of work this year. In the other hand you’ve got Morton, who had a 5.14 ERA in 28 innings of work in his last five starts, heading in to tonight.
Then you’ve got Brad Lincoln at AAA, possibly making his last start tomorrow for Indianapolis. Lincoln could very well be with the Pirates next week, which means one of Burres or Morton would have to go.
The argument for sending Burres out is that he shouldn’t be in the rotation to begin with, and isn’t a long term starter. His numbers have been worse than what we’ve seen out of Morton in the last month, heading in to tonight. On the other hand, keeping Morton in the rotation to struggle start after start may not be a good thing for his confidence.
At this point I would lean towards Morton being removed from the rotation. The Pirates have three options. They could send Morton to AAA to work out his issues (and maybe build some confidence in his work). They could put Morton in the bullpen, kind of like the Chicago Cubs did with Carlos Zambrano this year during his struggles. Or they could place him on the disabled list with some minor injury, giving him a few weeks, and a few rehab starts, to clear his head.
I believe Morton can be a good pitcher, better than what we saw in 2009, and much better than what we’ve seen this year. Long term, I want Morton in the rotation over someone like Brian Burres. That said, in the short term I don’t see a problem with giving Morton a shot at getting his issues in order, with Burres taking his place until he’s ready to return. Giving Morton a chance to separate himself from his struggles this year, and potentially get himself back on track, would be well worth the price the Pirates would pay by having Burres make a few more starts.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some sort of resolution to this issue next week, when I project Lincoln to arrive in the majors, which should bring a settlement to the issue of how to handle Charlie Morton.