Right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton is set to start Thursday for the Pirates, one year to the day before his Tommy John surgery. While returning to the Majors 12 months after the reconstructive elbow procedure is a relatively quick recovery time, Morton has been itching to get back for a while.
“I was on pace to be back a little bit quicker than I was, so I was disappointed at the same time,” Morton said. “I’m just glad to be able to be pitching again.”
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with forearm tightness, which opened up a spot on the roster for Gerrit Cole to start Tuesday. Rodriguez will be eligible to return to the roster June 21. Manager Clint Hurdle said the pitcher had complications playing catch Sunday, so a planned bullpen session Monday “never really got off the ground.”
Morton made nine minor league starts this season, though a setback in May delayed his return. In the last two starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, Morton was directed to focus on his executing and competing, rather than just raising his pitch count. He threw his two-seam sinking fastball in the low-90s and four-seam fastball in the mid-90s, followed by his curveball and his changeup. Morton drew 12 ground balls over 6.1 innings in his last start. A cutter he was previously working on is gone.
“He took much better steps toward that, keeping things simple,” Hurdle said. “There was good late finish and action down on the sinker… Breaking ball was shaped up where he could throw it back-door to a lefty, outer-third to a righty.”
A roster move will have to be made to get Morton on the roster before his start Thursday, for which Hurdle considers him “Plan A.” After Morton takes the PNC Park mound against the San Francisco Giants, he does not know what the future holds for him.
“I have no idea what their intentions are. I have no clue,” Morton said, noting the Pirates cannot send him back down to the minors without his consent.
Among the pitchers Morton could be competing against for a spot against is right-hander James McDonald, who will pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis tonight. McDonald is aiming for 90 pitches as part of his rehab, Hurdle said, focusing on strike zone command and controlling baserunners after giving up seven stolen bases in his last start.