Pirates Allow Season-High 17 Hits, Collect Only Three in Morton’s Debut

Andrew McCutchen Batting

Andrew McCutchen was the only Pirates batter to get an extra-base hit. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

That was the worst game the Pirates have played all season. Pittsburgh pitchers surrendered a season-high 17 hits in the 10-o loss, continuing the struggle after allowing 15 base hits Wednesday night.

Starter Matt Cain and the Giants held the Bucs’ lineup to three hits after it totaled 18 hits on the previous two San Francisco starting pitchers.

“We got to see the real good Matt Cain tonight,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, calling Cain “a guy to hang your hat on if you want to patent yourself after a guy.”

He wasn’t the Matt Cain that struck out 14 hitters for the most K’s in a perfect game exactly one year ago, but he did hold the Pirates to just two hits and two walks over 6.2 shutout innings.

Zagurski Gets Zapped For Four

The majority of the Giants’ offensive damage was inflicted on Mike Zagurski, who came on in relief of Charlie Morton in the 6th.

Mike Zagurski Pirates

Mike Zagurski allowed four singles, a double and a home run in his one inning. (Photo by: David Hague)

Leadoff hitter Nick Noonan reached on a bounding bunt single and moved to second on Neil Walker’s throwing error. Cain grounded out, then Gregor Blanco hit a diamond-cutter ground ball for the first RBI of the inning. Brandon Crawford laced a single to center, and McCutchen tried to throw out Blanco, who was taking a wide turn off second. Instead, Blanco kept running, took third base and then scored on Posey’s shallow RBI single.

Hunter Pence followed by knocking a three-run home run and Brandon Belt looped a double into the left field grass. Zagurski only escaped by striking out Andres Torres and getting Joaquin Arias to ground out, increasing his season ERA to 15.00 on the six-hit, five-run inning that put the Giants ahead 9-0.

“He threw strikes,” Hurdle said, 16 of them over 23 pitches. “But he left the ball up and over the plate and he got hit.”

Pirates reliever Ryan Reid gave up two hits over his two shutout innings. Vin Mazzaro, who Hurdle was hoping not to use, allowed two hits and the 10th run. Nick Noonan thought he had hit his first MLB home run off Mazzaro, but video review showed it had hit the yellow line on top of the right-center-field fence.

All Right, Let’s Get To Morton

The Pirates’ poor performance overshadowed Morton’s rather solid debut.

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton allowed just two earned runs in five innings and 86 pitches.

THE GOOD

  • Morton got 7 swings-and-misses on his 19 curveballs, including four strikeouts of left-handed-hitting Brandon Belt and Andres Torres the first two times the pair came up to bat.

“I was really impressed with how good his curveball was today,” catcher Michael McKenry said, without being prompted about the curve. “I know he hit two guys with it, but how good his breaking ball was was really, really impressive… He’s got an electric breaking ball.”

  • He had better control of his sinker after the first inning, throwing it 30 times for strikes and 16 times for balls from the second inning onward. That’s basically two strikes out of three, which was his strike percentage with the pitch the last two years.

“Fastball command has been his area that, when he nails it, that’s when he’s good,” Hurdle said. “That’s when he’s efficient… We’ve got to get more balls in the strike zone.”

  • After walking the first batter of the game, Morton did not allow any more walks the rest of his start and pitched into just 3 three-ball counts over his next 24 hitters. Credit his sinker command.

“I think the action on the pitch was good, and I think overall the location was really good. It was down. It will just get better. It’s so hard to determine where it’s gonna be.”

  • Morton’s second pitch of the game was 97 miles per hour and his fastball speed remained over 94 mph the rest of the game. Was he surprised he hit 97?

“Noooo,” Morton emphasized. “I like looking up and looking at the movement moreso than velocity, if I do look up. I’m more interested in vertical, horizontal movement than velocity. But if I can amp it up in the mid-90s, it’s great.”

Charlie Morton velocity

Hurdle appeared to be impressed by the speed coming off Tommy John surgery.

“It’s kind of crazy how that surgery works out, where some guys get some extra miles per hour when they come back,” Hurdle said.

Charlie Morton Pirates

Morton got six ground-ball outs, but also allowed six ground-ball singles.

THE BAD

  • Morton started the game “overamped,” as Hurdle put it. He walked leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco on five pitches, hit Brandon Crawford with the next pitch, then gave up and RBI single. Three batters, no outs.

“He was throwing real hard. He was amped up,” McKenry said. “At the same time, he was a little timid. The last time he was out there in a Major League stadium, really bad things happened, a big flash of his whole life went by real fast.”

  • Despite getting whiffs with his curveball, he also hit two batters with it in the 5th inning. Crawford, the first hit batsman, came around to score the third Giants’ run.

“It’s a little inconsistent,” Morton said. “For how many curves I threw, it was pretty good. Got some swing-and-misses, got some strikes. It was just like, unfortunately, the couple that I did throw, that did get away from me ended up letting guys on. And that’s as good as a hit.”

  • Morton allowed seven hits over his five innings of work, probably more than he would have liked. However, of the 12 groundballs Morton drew, 6 of them went for singles (hat-tip to Bucs Dugout’s David Manel). The only hard hit was Buster Posey’s book-rule double 400 feet to the North Shore Notch in the 5th inning.

In the end, only two of the Giants’ four runs off Morton were charged to the starter. His ERA got the benefit of a Pedro Alvarez error. Umpires ruled Alvarez obstructed Brandon Crawford during a rundown between third base and home plate in the 5th. Crawford was out of the baseline, in the grass, but was allowed to score because he had to avoid Alvarez coming back to third base.

THE FUTURE

Hurdle has plenty of decisions to make in setting his future rotation. As it stands, Morton, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are the only four healthy starters. James McDonald continues to rehab. Wandy Rodriguez can return as early as June 21 from the disabled list, and A.J. Burnett can return after June 24. So what did Hurdle think of Morton’s debut as he prepares for some possible, but not certain, tough decisions?

“For being out a year, first time back on a Major League mound, I think there’s some things we can definitely work with,” Hurdle said.

As for Morton, back in the game with the scar still showing on his elbow one year after tearing his UCL…

“I wasn’t looking for this start to validate what I had gone through in the rehab,” Morton said. “I wasn’t looking for this start to come back and say ‘I’m back. This is the new me.’

“It’s a part of the process, a long process. We’re talking a year, and that’s a lot.”

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • emjayinTN

    James: Morton as a 95+ mph pitcher in the majors was BP – very little command/movement. That is why in 2011 he went to the 2-seam fastball, dropped down to 91-92 and the ball had plenty of downward action, ergo “Ground Chuck”. He was better than he was as the 4-seam 95 mph pitcher, but still had difficulty with command. His whole outing last night was summed up in one sentence by McKenry when he said that his curve was working real well. What he did not say was that was the only pitch he could get by anybody. Possibly two starts too early, and it is very hard to work on the “little” things at the MLB Level. Yes, he knows his career is on the line and he definitely wants back in the show, but somebody needed to step up and say that he needed more work on the rehab assignment. Just my $0.02.

    • James Santelli

      I appreciate the comment, emjay, though I assure you I am well aware of Morton’s history and why he throws what he throws :) I am not the biggest Morton fan, which will become evident to people that listen to the podcast, but he looked pretty solid Thursday. He only gave up one liner/flyball hit last night, and I would say that’s quite good and I want to see at least a little more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.stull.98 Stephen Stull

    When can we release or designate Zagurski. Guy has no busines on an MLB roster.

  • IC Bob

    I like this guy but its time to go. We have got to release or at least send to the minors McHenry. Its not fair to the pitchers who have to throw to him. As a team If you want to be taken seriously you can’t allow him behind the plate. He is a terrible receiver of the ball and he couldn’t throw out my Mom and she is 85 years old. Bring up Sanchez, this will save Martin from the ware and tear of the season season and with the shortage of right handed hitters you could play Martin at 3rd or outfield on occasion when necessary.

  • WardHolder

    Probably Charlie gets another start or two in AAA if Bucs weren’t losing a starter thru injury about every 4th day. And absolutely right on Zagurski. Bring up Duke Welker, and dfa Zagurski asap.

  • Monkshot

    Zagurski is eating innings in blow outs. Leave him up here until we can get our starting rotation healthy. I’m surprised Mazzaro is still pitching pretty effectively, I thought that guy was going to be released awhile ago. I definitely saw some good things in Morton last night but, all you can do is hold your breath and hope for the best when he’s on the mound.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    Is it me, or since the advent of radar guns, there is an obsession with velocity – almost to the point of exclusions of other aspects of pitching? Yes, it would be great to have 9-10 pitchers on your staff who can all throw hard, plus all have great control, command, deceptive moves, secondary pitches, and can change speeds effectively. However, those types of pitchers are the superstars – and are few and far between. Most pitchers have a subset of the above.

    So, here we have Morton – who the Pirates have been staying with for 4-5 years now – despite injury problems and general ineffectiveness. Why, because he can throw 96-97. Same thing with Kip Wells, when he was with the team.

    I hope I am proven wrong, but there is nothing to suggest that Morton will ever be more than what he has been up until now. Could he be another Vogelsong and figure it out later in his career? Yes, that could happen – and I hope that would happen with Morton. But, those are the exceptions. People talk of Morton like he was a former Cy Young winner who we are hoping to get back to form….what form – a 5.00era and a .300 batting average against him??

    I just find this all very frustrating – and it comes at the cost of prospects who are held back and do not get their chance.

    I hope I am wrong.

    • leadoff

      2 earned runs in 5 innings is not a bad day. 95-97 is very good velocity is important. As far as his horizontal and vertical breaks, I was not at the game, but I am sure the curve/slider was off the charts. Pitching with a broken arm usually makes a pitcher look bad, now that he has all of his tools, lets see what he can do. IMO, if the Pirates released him, he would be on the market about an hour.
      In this game Morton had some bad luck, the defense was not very good and the umpiring was not very good either. All his walks were not walks, you can’t do much when the ump is calling strikes balls.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        I thought he only had one walk in the game??

        In 2011, when he was healthy, had made the changes to his delivery, and supposed to be the next “Roy Holliday” – he was mediocre at best. One good start, 2-3 bad ones to follow. IMHO, he does not have the competitive fire and mental toughness to overcome a walk, error, etc – seems like the wheels quickly fall off with him. Sorry, velocity is nice, but ultimately you have to get people out.

        Now, I am not saying he was awful last night – he wasn;t. I am just not optimistic he will be any different than what we got in 2011.

  • leadoff

    One aspect of watching a game on TV is listening to the commentators constant defense of McHenry, Blass and Walk to be exact. If the throws are not anywhere near the bag, you don’t get anyone out unless you are lucky. The traveling circus when McHenry catches is starting to get annoying. The old school thoughts that it is always on the pitcher is baloney. They are blaming the pitcher because they are counting steps, steps are not the only important part of stealing, POP time is important, Acuracy is important.
    Instead of just telling me the guy had x amount of steps before he threw the pitch, show me pop times. And, the they ran on the curve does not work for me either, they run on any pitch with McHenry back of he plate.
    If it is always the pitcher, then why don’t they run on Martin?

  • Monkshot

    Morton didn’t hold runners on well last night but, I do agree McKenry doesn’t do his job well when he does have the opportunity. I would like to see Sanchez get a opportunity at some point this year and preferably it’s not because Martin is on the DL.

  • joe g.

    Morton was solid last night, especially when you consider that he really should have had another rehab start or two in AAA. Most of the hits against him were weak. He didnt get pounded. He showed excellent velocity, a great curve ball and solid control of his sinker. He never imploded, but he’s still shaking off the rust. People forget that Morton reinvented himself, because being a power pitcher wasn’t working. He basically did it over the course of one season, which is amazing. 2012 was the opportunity to build on his new pitching style and solidify himself as a big league starter. The injury effected his performance and ended his season. Essentially this is season two of his reinvention, and I think that he will surprise some folks. Morton has an answer for LH batters – his curve ball. Year one was about developing consistency with his sinker. He thru almost nothing else that season. Last night he gave us a glimpse of the future: he’s going to start mixing in more curve balls and a few 4 seam fast balls. Everything plays off the two seamer. Throw that for strikes and he can keep the batter off balance with 96 MPH heat and the breaking pitch. I look forward to seeing his continued evolution.