PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Right-hander Charlie Morton has been struggling with leaving the ball up during the month of May. After posting a 2.65 ERA over his first three starts in April, Morton has a posted a 5.70 ERA after his eighth start of the season on Tuesday at PNC Park against Cincinnati.
“There were some sequences that weren’t sharp,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s still I think repeating his delivery, trusting himself. He spun some balls that didn’t end up where he wanted them as well. Made some mistakes with his breaking ball… With Charlie, where we’re at right now, we’d like to have some continuity to some things…He’s not in the same place this year.”
“I think the mistakes that I made, what hurt me weren’t sinkers really,” Morton said. “I think that if I was being more aggressive with the sinker, results may have been different. I go back and look at what happened. Those pitches were up over the plate.
I think some of it is pitch selection, but the majority of it was just pure execution.”
Confidence on the mound has been an issue for Morton since he was traded from the Atlanta Braves. In 2010, Morton finished with a 7.57 ERA over 17 starts in the Majors. After making several adjustments, Morton bounced back in 2011 and had a solid 3.83 ERA over 171.2 innings.
“I feel like I need to get back to where I’m in a groove and I feel like the decently when I throw it,” Morton said. “I think my confidence comes from not necessarily results, but the feel. The feel of the ball, what the ball’s doing. It’s hard to say I’m extremely confident. I’m confident the next time I throw, I’m going to figure something out.”
Morton said that being aggressive and effective is key.
“The best example for that for me was last year coming into spring training, coming off the worst season in my career.” Morton said. “I don’t feel great right now. But at this time in 2010, I was sitting at a 12 and a half ERA, seven loses. I deserved it. I was pitching terribly. I came back to spring training and didn’t know if I had a job. I was terrified. I was nervous when I was on the mound. The changes that we made, the physical changes that we made, mechanical adjustments we made allowed me to succeed and have success. I think confidence stems from that.”
Morton was done on Tuesday after just four innings — his shortest outing of the season. Overall, Morton allowed four runs on six hits with one walk and no strikeouts. He threw 61 pitches, 41 for strikes. The red flag for the right-hander was that 7 of his 11 outs were flyouts, proof that his sinker wasn’t sinking. Morton also has only had one strikeout over his last two outings.
“The other thing you need to look at is the groundball outs,” Hurdle said. “There’s not many. Not like what we’re used to seeing. The ball was in the air a lot tonight. So the combination of the two are telling you that there’s inconsistency. For me, it’s repeating his delivery. It’s having the same mindset. Trusting what you do…We need to make sure he’s not out there trying to create sink. We’ve got to find a way to make him feel comfortable over the mound because he’s still doesn’t look comfortable on the mound all the time to me.”
“I’ve noticed the contrast between the first four or five starts with the curveball, and my past few, ” Morton said. “To me, my curveball was way better before. And it didn’t seem like it was location oriented. The way I was throwing it was better. That’s obviously an adjustment. Sinker, curveball, you name it. Need to make adjustments.”
The right-hander’s ERA bumped up to 4.65 on the season. With Jeff Karstens not too far away from returning to the club and Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens ready in Triple-A, should the Pirates consider removing Morton from the rotation until he get back on track?
“We’ll continue to let him work and talk,” Hurdle said. “Always encouraged to move forward. The one thing you always want to make sure is that guys are feeling what they need to feel. Those conversations get had with players and coaches, not the media. Not in the press conference after the game. That’s not going to be the first place it springs up.”
Bucco Injury Updates
Right-hander Jeff Karstens (right shoulder inflammation) is set to make his third rehab start on Thursday. It will be his second for Triple-A Indianapolis. Karstens will throw five innings, or 80 pitches.
Right-hander Chris Leroux (right pectoral muscle strain) threw a 40 pitch bullpen session on Saturday. He will throw another bullpen on Thursday and if no issue, will throw a two inning rehab game on Saturday in extended spring training.
Right-hander Daniel McCutchen (strained left oblique) is playing catch on flat ground in Bradenton, Fla. The goal is for a bullpen next week.
Harrison Showing Some Improvements on Defense
When Josh Harrison was in the Pirates system, he was never regarded for having a strong defensive glove. But so far this season with Pittsburgh, Harrison has shown some improvements at every position, with a few highlight reel plays. The super utility man has played in left field, right field, third base, second base and shortstop with the Pirates and has not committed an error over 55 chances.
“I think time will tell,” Hurdle said. “He’s got to get the reps up here and give him the opportunity to show that he’s consistent, or show that he’s not. We like to be quick to judge. We don’t always have to be right. We just want to be first. In his case, I’m not sure. I’m going to keep running him out there and let him show me what he can do, what he might have trouble doing.”
Last year with Pittsburgh, Harrison committed six errors at third base and two at second during his rookie season. But all the hard work that he’s put in has paid off.
“If you remember when he first came up last year at third base, it wasn’t real good,” Hurdle said. “The second time he came up, it was different. Second base was supposedly his comfortable position, we ran him over there initially and that was a little disjointed. The second time he came up, his whole game improved dramatically the second call up. For me, it’s about giving him the opportunity, get the reps where they don’t feel like everyday they’re out there trying too hard.”
“It’s tough to be a young man off the bench. It can be challenging. That’s why most managers want veteran players off the bench. They’ve done it. They know they’re going to get a start here or there. Its nothing more than that. Young kids, you can tell them, but they get that start, and ‘okay. If I go three for five and hit a couple homers, this guys going to have to play me tomorrow.’ It’s hard. In Josh’s case, it’s taken him some time working through that. I think he has a much better feel for that.”