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Morton Progresses in Bucs Loss, Plans to Start Season In Discussion

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 6-4, to the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park on Wednesday night.

Right-hander Charlie Morton made his fourth official start of the spring during Grapefruit League action. Overall, Morton allowed six runs on eight hits with two strikeouts over five innings. Morton threw 75 pitches.

“That’s the good side of it. I did throw five innings,” Morton said.

“I want to get as many innings in as I can. I felt good the first three, then I just kind of got out of sync…On the mound, I got to be able to make those adjustments to make my pitches. And I didn’t.”

Elliot Johnson started the third inning with a double over the head of Jose Tabata in right. After advancing to third on a ground out, Ben Zobrist drove Johnson in with a RBI ground out to first.

“Right up until that third inning, I felt pretty good in terms of where I was,” Morton said. “I just got out of sync in the fourth inning. And obviously made a mistake in the fifth.”

For the second straight inning, Morton gave up a leadoff double. This time, however, third baseman Evan Longoria was at the plate. After retiring his next batter, Luke Scott hit a RBI single up the right side to plate the second run in as many innings.

The Rays tacked on two more runs off Morton in the 4th frame. With runners on first and second, the right-hander gave up a two-run double into left field. The ball flew over the glove of Josh Harrison, who made his spring debut in the outfield, to give  Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.

“The one ball over the top, he may have taken a false break the wrong way,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don’t know if he would have caught the ball anyway. The ball was barreled up pretty good. We’ve watched him run around. It’s just some game experience. It’s just another option to look at…If the long-range goal is for Josh to be a super utility guy, that’s something I definitely think I have every confidence he’ll be able to pull off.”

“Guys have got to go through certain periods of things,” Hurdle said of Morton pitching in the stretch. “You don’t know when you’re going to get that work. And side work’s not the same as game work, when you add a hitter and you got to get into the stretch and make pitches. I just think the repetition of being back out there. It was a longer outing that last time. All that comes into play. I don’t think it was anything other than he’s got to find that ability to be a little stronger. To repeat that delivery even when he’s in the stretch. More work, more practice.”

In Morton’s final inning of work, Carlos Pena hit a leadoff single up the middle to start the fifth. With two outs, designated hitter Scott took a 2-1 pitch for a two-run homer, his second of the spring.

“I gave up a few ground ball singles on the sinker, which was fine. I thought it was fine tonight,” Morton said. “For the most part, the cutter was fine except for one. I gave up a home run. I kept throwing it and I left it over the middle of the plate pretty much.”

The 28-year-old, who is behind in innings and pitch count this spring due to offseason surgery on his left hip, isn’t sure if he will travel north with the club or will remain in extended spring training. With Opening Day a week away, Morton said he wants the ball to start the season in the rotation.

“I have no idea what they are going to do. I want to pitch,” Morton said. “Obviously I would like to throw another game and see where we are at and make a decision. I understand the situation. I understand that there’s plenty of off days coming up. If I’m the guy that they choose to not be up here, there’s really nothing I can do about it…I’m assuming they’ve made a decision, and maybe we’re waiting to see what happened tonight. I just don’t know…I’d rather be with the guys.”

“It’s a gray area,” Hurdle said on the teams plans for Morton. “I think he’s making progress. I think we saw him very clean and efficient early. Then I think you saw the one inning fatigued him. He wasn’t as sharp. We didn’t get him to where we wanted to on his pitch count, as far as getting him closer to 90 [pitches]. But I thought he made some progress. We just have some more work to do. We’ll continue to have that discussion.”

After collecting just two hits off the Rays’ David Price over four scoreless frames, the Pirates were able to plate a run off the left-hander in the 5th inning. With one out, Rod Barajas hit a double into deep center. Matt Hague followed with a RBI single into left field.

Andrew McCutchen picked up his third long ball of the spring on a 1-2 pitch from Price in the 6th inning.

The Pirates tacked on a third run off reliever J.P. Howell in the 8th. Neil Walker roped a RBI double to score Nate McLouth from second base.

Outfielder Dan Grovatt, who was over from minor league camp, hit into a force out in the 9th inning to score Eric Fryer from third, who doubled in his at-bat in the Pirates 6-4 loss to the Rays.

Game Notes:

  • Relief: Evan Meek: IP, 2 BB, 2K; Chris Leroux: IP, 2 K; Juan Cruz: IP, K
  • Hurdle on Cruz, who is battling for a spot in the Pirates pen: “Juan has pitched well this spring. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do coming in. He’s competed well. He’s worked extremely well. He’s gotten outs and been efficient with them.”
  • Andrew McCutchen homered in the 6th inning and has now reached base safely in 10 straight games; Neil Walker went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI and has now hit safely in eight of his last 10 games; Clint Barmes went 1-for-3 and has now hit safely in seven of his last 10 games.

Thursday Game Info:

  • The Pirates will face the Minnesota Twins at 1:05 tomorrow at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Right-hander James McDonald is expected to start for the Bucs against lefty Matt Maloney.
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