BRADENTON, Fla. — Charlie Morton has been working hard progressing back from offseason left hip surgery this spring. The right-hander however, despite taking huge steps forward, will start the 2012 season on the disabled list.
The decision to place Morton on the 15-day D.L. came the day after giving up six runs on eight hits over five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. After his start, Morton said he understood the decision the club was in, but wanted the ball to start the season.
“We’ve let him know that while we’re excited about where he is, and it’s a tremendous progress to be where he is, our belief is to give him another start down here before Philadelphia. Then probably one start in the minor leagues, then reevaluate at that point in time,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Charlie’s time frame is to start here in a sim game on the 4th, be in Pittsburgh for Opening Day, then he’ll go make a start for Indianapolis on the 9th if everything stays on schedule. Then we will reevaluate at that point in time.
“I really didn’t know, anything other than the fact that the word was that I wasn’t going to be needed anyway, so I didn’t really expect to be in the rotation unless I was pitching really, really, really well,” Morton said. “And last night, I really didn’t pitch all that great. I don’t fault anyone for a decision where they think I might need a little bit extra time to get ready.”
So far this spring, Morton has allowed 11 runs on 21 hits over 14.0 innings (four Grapefruit League starts). He walked one with eight strikeouts. Morton tossed five innings during Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Rays while throwing 75 pitches.
“For him to be where he is, is a tremendous credit to Charlie, the work he put in this offseason,” Huntington said. “We just felt he wasn’t quite ready to go…That will give Charlie an opportunity to get to 100 pitches for the first time. That’s where we like each of our guys to be. He wouldn’t get that opportunity if we ran him back out in a Major League game. Very pleased with where Charlie is, just not quite ready. We’ll get him one rehab start in the Minor Leagues and make an evaluation from there.”
Morton will be eligible to come off the DL on April 14th. With the way the Pirates off days lineup to start the season (April 6 and 9), the club doesn’t technically need a fifth starter until the 15th with keeping the rotation on regular five days rest. The Pirates will give the Opening Day nod to lefty Erik Bedard, who will be followed by Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Kevin Correia.
“I’m expecting to throw on the 14th,” Morton said.
“That would be a perfect goal target,” Huntington said of Morton being ready to come off the disabled list by the 14th. “But we’ll see how it goes. If everything goes as expected, and as hoped, that is absolutely a possibility. We want to make sure we put him in a position to be successful. He’s worked so hard. We talked to him about it. He understands it. He’s’ a little bit disappointed because I think it was big for him to start healthy, but we want to make sure we make the right decision for him and for us long-term.”
Huntington said the decision to carry an extra bench player, rather than an arm, is still in discussion. Instead of carrying 12 pitchers, the Pirates could decide to use 11 arms (four starters and seven relievers) and 14 position players to help the club during their tough month of April.
“That is an option,” Huntington said. “That is something we are talking about. The best use of the bench for Clint to win those early games. Eight bullpen guys allows us the protection early as your starters are getting built up, getting into the cold weather. Certainty in Pittsburgh for the first time. It is an option that we could go 11 pitchers,  position players. Or we could go four starters and eight relievers and go 12 and 13. We’re still working through that. Probably our final decisions will be made in Philadelphia in terms of the final spots as we go forward.”