PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Right-hander Charlie Morton said after Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds that he’s trying to get back in sync. Morton, who is known for his sinker, didn’t see much sink during his fourth outing of the season. During the 2011 season Morton allowed just six home runs over 171.2 innings — the fewest amount allowed by all Major League pitchers with at least 110 innings pitched.
But so far this season, Morton has given up four. Two of them came from the Reds on Sunday. Both today were from right-handers. Morton allowed just one long ball to a right-hander during the 2011 season over 381 at-bats.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better in a lot of ways,” Morton said. “I feel like I’m throwing more strikes. Walks are down. Pitching pretty well to lefties — things that I was really working on last year. The one thing that I was really good at last year was getting ground balls from righties. They weren’t hitting. To have given up four home runs now all to righties, and to deep parts of the park, it’s different. It’s the kind of feedback where you have to look at it objectively. You have to say, ‘There’s something you’ve got to do a little bit different.’ I’m not saying I’m going to overhaul anything, but I’ve got to tweak something to get my bread and butter back. That’s what that is. That sinker is what I am. It will come, it’s just frustrating. It just seems like I’m not where I want to be.”
While he feels his other pitches are okay, Morton said he doesn’t think his sinker has abandoned him.
“I do feel like it needs adjusting,” Morton said. “There needs to be some kind of tweaking whether it’s from a mentality standpoint, or if it’s from a physical standpoint. I’m going to go look at the video, talk about it, get to work in the bullpen. Figure out where it is and where it needs to be, which I know what I can do. Especially against righties. I know that I can keep the ball in the park and keep the ball on the ground. That’s where I need to be.”
Morton said he plans on watching video in order to make some tweaks. The right-hander has posted a 4.61 ERA over his four starts this season (27.1 innings). Overall on Sunday, Morton allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits over 6.0 innings. He walked two and struck out five while throwing 97 pitches, 62 strikes.
“It’s the kind of thing where you kind of have to revert back to a time that the ball is coming out of your hand the way you want it to,” Morton said. “That may be six, seven months ago. In that sense, it’s tough. I think I threw a couple good ones today later. I think I’ve thrown a couple good ones games prior, it’s just almost surprising. Almost bizarre. I gave up six home runs all of last year. And one of them was a righty. For them to be squaring the ball up like this, it’s just different.”
In the second, Todd Frazier took the first pitch from Morton for a solo-homer to left field to start the inning. It marked his first long ball of the season for the third baseman. The home run hurt Morton again in his next frame. After walking his leadoff batter, Drew Stubbs took a first pitch fastball for a two-run shot to right-center field.
“He’s given up three home runs in four innings, if you count the last innings in St. Louis. That’s a red flag for a sinker ball pitcher,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “His effort is there but we’ve got to tighten up the delivery, get him more comfortable over the rubber…You’re going to have to give yourself some time to get back in sync. Charlie is going to take some time, but I thought he got into some sequences. We’ve got to put that package together better.”
The Reds plated two more runs off Morton in his fourth outing of the season.
After retiring his first batter, Morton allowed a walk to Drew Stubbs in first inning. While attempting to pick him off at first base, Morton’s throw to Casey McGehee went wide of the bag, allowing him to advance to third on the error. Joey Votto followed with a RBI single to left to plate the first run of the game.
Morton allowed a leadoff infield single to Drew Stubbs in the fifth. After swiping second, and tagging up and advancing to third on a fly out, Stubbs scored on a sac fly by Brandon Phillips.
“Charlie is still working hard to get comfortable over the rubber,” Hurdle said. “There’s some sequences when it’s crisp, but there’s not the consistency that we’ve seen from Charlie in the past. Overall, he’s been inconsistent. The sinker hasn’t always been there.”
The Pirates were unable to capitalize on walks in the first inning off righty Matt Latos. Jose Tabata was hit by a fastball on his shoulder and both Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez drew back-to-back free passes to load the bases with one out. Latos, however, put a foot down.
Casey McGehee hit a hard liner that found the glove of the Reds’ third baseman Todd Frazier for the second out of the inning. Nate McLouth followed by striking out looking on a borderline pitch to end the threat and leave the bases loaded.
“McGehee couldn’t have hit a ball any harder,” Hurdle said. “You’d like to see a swing get off. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. I understand that also. Point being, we have a tendency to run down there and see what happens to strike three. We need to pay more attention to what’s happening with strike one and two.”
“It was a big at-bat for us,” Alex Presley said of McGehee’s line out. “He did everything right, it was just one of those deals where it found a glove. That’s just the way it [goes] sometimes. You do things you want to do them and you don’t get results. That’s just kind of how baseball works out sometimes.”
The Pirates combined for just two hits off Latos while striking out 11 times over 6.0 innings — a career-high for the right-hander. He previously had struck out 10 batters over an outing three times in his Major League career.
“He was mixing it up,” Presley said. “Usually when guys are doing well, they’re mixing up and throwing their pitches in the zone. It was a good fastball. He threw well. He kept us off balance. And that’s pitching. You got to tip your hat sometimes to guys that throw well.”
The Pirates combined to strikeout 17 times on the day while collecting just three hits.
“Sometimes,” outfielder Presley said on whether the club is pressing to score runs. “Especially when you don’t get a bunch of opportunities in the game. You get that opportunity and you know you need to come through. It’s easy to press and try to force things and make things happen. That’s just your nature. We just got to stick to the plan and trust it. That’s the main thing. Even in the crunch times of the game.”
“At this level, you’re going to need to give some credit to the opposing staff,” Hurdle said. “We had a chance to take the game in a different direction in the first inning. We did not. It’s something we talked about before the game…We’re still looking for a better way to compete when we get in the batters box. It’s that simple.”
“From the offense side, you can’t get hot in one day. I saw big swings up there. They have a club that can take some big swings and do some damage. We don’t have that kind of club. When we start swinging big, we’re working to the other teams advantage.”
- Relief — Brad Lincoln: IP, 2H, K; Jared Hughes: 2.0 IP, H, 2BB
- Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-2 with two walks in his second day batting cleanup. Hurdle said he likes what he’s seen from him hitting there so far.
- A day after the defense shined in the Bucs 3-2 win on Saturday, the club made two blunders on the field. Both pitcher Charlie Morton and Pedro Alvarez made throwing errors.
- Righty Brad Lincoln allowed two leadoff singles in his inning of work, but was able to escape the frame without allowing a run to score. Lincoln has given up one run over his six innings this season (11.1 innings).