Right-hander Charlie Morton tossed four scoreless frames scattering two hits and struck out two in his fourth official Grapefruit League start of the spring. Morton threw 55 pitches over his four inning outing. The two lone hits Morton gave up came in the first and third inning. Andy Dirks led off the 1st frame with a hit into shallow right field just out of reach of Neil Walker’s glove. In the 3rd, Gerald Laird leadoff the inning with a single into left field.
“The sinker had better life than it did previously,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Even though he was getting some balls on the ground. The sinker action was there. He threw some nice curveballs today as well. Threw some cutters. I think it was a good day for him personally the four innings he was out there.”
“I felt like I threw the ball pretty well. I think that [catcher] Rod [Barajas] did a good job back there mixing everything up. For the most part I was throwing strikes. It was good,”Morton said. “Right before the game, [pitching coach] Ray [Searage] came up to me and said, ‘I got one thing for you: compete.’ Meaning throw everything out the window, throw mechanics, worrying about stuff out the window. Just go worry about throwing the ball. That’s what I tried to do.”
Morton, who had offseason surgery on his left hip, said he plans on being ready to start the fifth game of the season.
“I want the ball,” he said.
The right-hander is behind in the rotation due to recovering from the surgery itself. Although he has made four Grapefruit League starts, Morton has reached four innings and 55 pitches. Righty Jeff Karstens threw six innings and 89 pitches during his outing yesterday.
“I may be a game’s worth behind, which I’m hoping I can pick that up at the end of spring training. Get my pitch count up above 90,” Morton said. “I can’t go in there and say I want the ball tomorrow, or I want the ball in two days from now, give me the ball, I want 80 pitches. I can’t do that. If I could, I would.”
“The whole idea is to build up my arm strength within the perimeters of what we’ve been doing, what’s worked in the past, what we’ve done in the past. No one’s trying to push it past a certain limit. They’re going to look at say, how’s his arm strength? how’s his velocity? How’s the stuff coming out of his hand? And then go from there and make a decision. That’s what they’re doing week to week.”
The Pirates have two scheduled off days on April 6th and 9th to start the season. The club could get away without technically needing a fifth starter in the rotation and still give the guys regular rest until April 15th.
“We’re still having those talks,” Hurdle said. “They’re not on any timetable. We’re taking it really start to start. To get a bit of a read today was encouraging. Then he went out for four innings.”
“We’ve done it before. I’ve been in places where it’s been done before,” Hurdle said on possibly starting Morton in extended spring training. “We’re trying to consider what we need to do to take care of everybody. We’ll get reads on Charlie as he continues to pitch. He’s taking it week by week. We’re taking it start by start with him. Nothing definitive. We’re just trying to figure it out and make sense of it all as we move forward. We’ve got some options.”
“I haven’t been told anything,” Morton said. “I’ve been told I’m ahead of schedule from where they saw me from when I came down for spring training. But the whole time I’ve been saying I wanted to be ready to go the first day that I would be able to pitch.”
The Pirates two runs came with one out in the 2nd inning. Casey McGehee was hit by a pitch and first baseman Matt Hague, who is batting for a utility job this spring, took a 2-2 pitch from righty Doug Fister for a two-run homer to left. Hague has a team-leading four long balls this spring.
“When his front foot hits the ground, his hands are in a good hitting position,” Hurdle said on Hague’s swing at the plate. “When the front foot hits the ground, there’s not a good hitter alive that when he’s front foot hits the ground, his hands aren’t in a good firing position over his back leg. That’s the strongest position for every hitter. That’s where Matt gets to.”
“You just see a little bit of wiggle. You see a different variation with the barrel. You see more action than you might see from some guys, but he’s comfortable with it. It’s just kind of like a dog wagging his tail. Dog’s wag their tail with their hearts. He’s up there wagging his tail when that foot hits down and he’s ready to hit.”
Hague entered today’s action batting .448 (13-for-29), which is the highest average of any current Pirates players during Grapefruit League action (except Josh Harrison, who has nine fewer at-bats).
Joel Hanrahan came in for relief following Morton in the 5th and immediately allowed a solo home run to left field to the Tigers’ designated hitter Clete Thomas.
With a 2-1 lead heading into the 9th, right-hander Daniel McCutchen allowed five straight hits, which included a one-out grand slam to dead center. McCutchen, who prior to today’s game allowed just one earned run this spring, was charged with six runs over his two inning outing.
- Relief: Joel Hanrahan: IP, H, R, K, HR; Chris Leroux: IP, H, K; Ryota Igarashi: IP, H, K; Daniel McCutchen: 2IP, 6H, 6R, BB, HR
- Jose Tabata went 3-for-4; Andrew McCutchen extended his hitting streak to six games with a single in his second at bat; Matt Hague leads the team with four home runs and now has hit safely in four straight games and in six of his last eight.
Saturday Game Info:
- The Pirates will face the Houston Astros at 1:05 at McKechnie Field. Right-hander James McDonald is scheduled to start for the Bucs against righty Kyle Weiland. Chris Resop, Ryota Igarashi and Daniel Moskos are scheduled to follow in relief.