Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano Hoping to Return in May
Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano both threw at Pirate City this afternoon. Morton threw a 35-40 pitch bullpen session, which came two days after he threw two innings in an extended Spring Training game. Liriano threw two innings of a simulated game, throwing about 30 pitches total. I spoke with both pitchers after their work today to discuss how they were feeling physically, and when they expected to return to the majors.
Morton threw two perfect innings on Monday against the Toronto farm system. The results don’t say much, since he was mostly going up against guys who will be in the GCL and short-season A-ball this summer. The outing was significant, since it was the first time he got in an actual game during his rehab work.
“I think it’s more about getting into the game, getting into a game environment, getting the adrenalin going,” Morton said. “And then obviously you like to go out and do well and perform. This isn’t about bullpens and live BPs. It’s about what you can do in the game.”
You could tell that Morton was looking forward to getting back on the mound. He immediately knew that it had been nine months and three weeks since he had last thrown in an actual game. From here, the right-hander will start building up his innings, just like he would if this were the start of Spring Training. Morton admits that his timetable for a return is out of his control.
“This is my first Tommy John rehab. The only thing I can tell is how I’m rebounding physically from throwing bullpens and between games,” Morton said. “I think how I feel today would be the best way to determine how I’m bouncing back. And I feel good today.”
Morton said he has no soreness, and that the current plan is for him to throw three innings in a start on Saturday at Pirate City. He’s using his full arsenal at this point, and was throwing a few curveballs today at the end of his bullpen session. He’s been mixing in curveballs in his bullpens since early March, and feels good about his command of all of his pitches.
As for his return, that might be out of his control, but Morton does have a goal for when he’ll make it up to the majors. He also admits that there are other factors involved which could impact his return.
“I have goals. I want to be back in May. Getting back to the big leagues, it’s a whole other step. That’s not only determined by what I do, and how I’m pitching, but the situation in Pittsburgh. Ideally, they wouldn’t need me up there. Ideally, everybody will be pitching well, and the team is winning, and they’re like ‘thanks, but we’re all set.'”
Since the Pirates are paying Morton $2 M this year, I don’t think he will have to worry about finding a spot on the major league roster. He could have trouble cracking the rotation at that point, but he should return to the majors when he’s ready.
Liriano threw 30 pitches in two innings of a simulated game today. He looked sharp in the first inning, with good command and movement of all of his pitches. In the second inning he dealt with some control problems. He had some good looking pitches in the second, including a few nice changeups, but his stuff was definitely better in the first.
After the outing, Liriano noted that his right arm, which he broke over the off-season, is fully healed and doesn’t bother him. At this point he’s working on his mechanics and pitches, getting ready for the season as if it was the start of Spring Training. Today was one of the first games where he faced live hitters. He should throw a bullpen on Friday, and could go three innings in his next game.
A big problem for Liriano the last few years has been his lack of control. He’s working on his mechanics, focusing on staying back in his delivery a bit longer. He also attributes the control issues to his two-seam fastball, which he was throwing more often than his four-seam fastball the last few years. Last year he threw the two-seam 41% of the time, compared to 9% with his four-seam fastball.
“Last two years I’ve been throwing too many two-seam,” Liriano said. “That’s a pitch that got me in trouble. Just working on my mechanics, and throw less two-seams, and go from there.”
In his next outing, Liriano will throw three innings and 45 pitches in a real game. He will continue to add innings and pitches from there until he’s ready to return to Pittsburgh. Like Morton, Liriano is hoping to return in May.
“I hope for May. Between [the beginning] and the middle of May,” Liriano said. “It feels great. Just trying to throw some pitches in, and I haven’t faced a hitter in a while, so it feels a little bit weird to me. But I think a couple more games and I’ll be ready to go.”