Charlie Morton Opens Up About His Poor Spring, Getting Back to 2013 Mechanics

When the Pittsburgh Pirates gave Charlie Morton an extension during the 2013-14 off-season, you could see the reasoning behind the move. Morton was coming off a year where he posted a 3.26 ERA in 116 innings. He overhauled his mechanics in 2011 and became a new pitcher. Outside of his 2012 season — which was impacted by an elbow that eventually needed Tommy John surgery — he has been fantastic with those new mechanics. And the 2013 version of Morton was when things were at their best.

The Pirates extended him, hoping to get the 2013 version. That didn’t work out so well last year, as Morton developed a hip injury, resulting in hernia surgery over the off-season. He returned healthy this spring, but the results were horrible. All you need to do is ask Morton to confirm that.

“Pitching hurt last year, I just created a lot of bad habits,” Morton told me this afternoon at Pirate City. “And I never really ironed those things out. I’m just trying to get back to where I was early last year, and 2013, mechanically. You need to be sound, mechanically. At least half way decent. And my mechanics [during Spring Training] were broken down. My bullpens sucked. My catch play even sucked in the Spring. It just all was not good.”

The worst of it came in his final start of the spring against the Phillies. Morton gave up six runs, five earned, in 1.2 innings of work. He gave up four hits and walked five in that span. The Pirates responded by placing him on the disabled list, so that he could go to extended Spring Training and get his mechanics back on track from the injury. Morton said that he has improved since then.

“In my last game I threw in Philly, that was weird, because it felt like I had no idea where the ball was going,” Morton said. “My timing was just so off. Mechanics were off. No idea where the ball was going. And now everything is better.”

Morton was scheduled to throw 75 pitches today in a minor league game at Pirate City during extended Spring Training. However, those plans were cut short by weather. The game was originally supposed to be against the Phillies, but they left around the 1:00 scheduled time when it was still raining. The rain stopped and it looked like things would clear up, enough for Morton to throw a bullpen and one inning during an intrasquad contest. However, a downpour started quickly after his first inning, cutting his day short.

The limited amount of work I saw from Morton today looked good. His command was much better compared to Spring Training. There were also some noticeable differences. While watching his bullpen, I pulled up video of his work in Spring Training as a comparison. He is now lifting his leg up higher and turning a bit at the start of his delivery. I asked him about that after the outing, and he said it’s similar to what he did in 2013.

“I was in a really good spot in 2013, mechanically,” Morton said. “I was watching some video, and I noticed, in general, things were better. And the things I thought were better were my backside. I was getting a bit of a turn, and I think maybe putting some emphasis on positioning in my backside.”

Morton said many times today that the biggest thing for him is staying on his backside. He also said that he feels more athletic now than how he felt during Spring Training. He was disappointed today that his outing was cut short, as he was hoping to build on the 55 pitches he threw in the last outing.

The biggest thing for Morton right now isn’t so much getting built up for a return to the Majors, but taking his new mechanics on the field and replicating his success on the mound while the game environment adds additional intensity. Morton said that he was improving his mechanics towards the end of Spring Training, but couldn’t take it to the games yet.

Coincidentally, I talked to Jameson Taillon today about the same topic of finding his mechanics in flat grounds and bullpens first, then trying to carry it over to face live hitters. Morton equates this to how his progress normally would be at the start of Spring Training.

“The last week or two in Spring Training my catch play got better, my bullpens got better, but it was like I was in where I should have been the first couple of days in Spring Training,” Morton said. “I wasn’t where I needed to be at all.”

Today was too small of a sample to say that Morton is back to his old self, but there were visible improvements. His hope is that he can try again for 75 pitches on Monday, although the schedule is still up in the air. For now, he says he’s feeling good about his progress.

“Today was the best I felt all year,” Morton said. “I could take that in the big leagues right there. It’s just getting built up, and also maintaining my delivery.”

The Pirates would certainly hope that Morton is back to his 2013 self, because that’s a pitcher who could make an impact for them, just like he made an impact down the stretch during their 2013 playoff run.

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  • Charlie Morton will be very good for the Pirates this year. Better than Locke and Worley.

  • I sure hope he gets it figured out again…again.

  • Hopefully Morton has an injury free season and gets his mechanics together by the time he hits 40.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 23, 2015 5:41 pm

    I am admittedly not a Charlie Morton fan – as I just don’t see anything more than a mediocre and inconsistent pitcher, who had one short stretch (2-3 months?) in 2013 when he was consistently good. To his credit, he was able to cash in on that performance and got a pretty good contract extension. Looking back, I am not so sure that was a good move by the Pirates.

    I just don’t see him being much better than Locke or Worley – and to me he just represents a mediocre veteran pitcher who continues to block opportunities for guys like Sadler, Sampson, Kingham, Cumpton (although he is injured now), etc. I know he wouldn’t fetch much in a trade, so I guess we are stuck with him and his contract.

    The Pirates have developed a very good farm system, yet they continue to hold on to guys like Morton and Stewart when we have good options at Indy. I just don’t get that type of reasoning.

    • BFSinMD: I have not been the kindest to him over the years either, but there was also a year where he was 10-10 right after the change to emulate Roy Halladay. Then a year filled with injuries (Hip?) and then 2013 which was a very good year for him and the Pirates.

      Yogi-ism – “this game is 80% mental and the other half is physical”. Charlie Morton needs to be right mentally to be right physically, and regardless of anything else, if he does not come back believing in himself, he might as well stay in Bradenton. But, if he believes in himself, he can help this team a great deal in 2015. He has always been a notoriously slow healer, so pushing to get there by Opening Day was not smart. Let’s hope he and the Pirates have learned, and he is not brought back to the Rotation until both he and they think he is ready. He sounds like he has put it all behind him and is moving forward with a positive attitude.

      • The ol’ Morton struggles mentally shtick, as never ending as the “Pedro is lazy and not a hard worker” mantra. Impossible to prove definitively and thus always usable for anyone who “thinks” its legit.

        • Because it’s true, just not your twisted version of true.

          • Which one, that Pedro is lazy and wears his hat funny or that Morton and his 1.5+ WAR in 3 of 4 years is mentally weak?

            At best, there is no way to prove if Morton is or is not mentally weak and thus its arguing what you “think” with no real way to measure mental toughness. You get 10 people in a room, you are gonna have at least 4 different ideas on how to measure “tough” and if Morton is that.

        • I remember some old guys on Smizik’s blog who complained about Pedro’s hat and weight (fwiw, JHay wore his cap over his ears at times last year). And it was silly because there was no smoke about Pedro’s work ethic from anyone associated with the team.

          OTOH, you will hear code words associated with Chuck. “Cerebral”, “thoughtful”, “analytical”, etc. The confident Chuck owns the mound. You can see it in his body language. The un-confident Chuck takes more time and looks tentative. You can see it in his body language.

          So while there’s no valid substance behind the Pedro complaints, IMO, there’s at least circumstantial evidence that Chuck has had issues. Or in Hurdle’s words, a lack of a “slow heartbeat” when things aren’t going his way.

          And I’m a Chuck fan. I still think he has the most potential of any Bucs starter to throw a no-no.

          • Fair enough, i think Chuck is as mentally tough as most pitchers. Cole has issues at times, etc etc. I think every non dominating pitcher and/or young pitcher goes through the tentative “my stuff sucks today, what do i do” at times. All things taken into account, i never really worry Morton cant handle the big games. I worry more about his stuff as he either clearly has control of his movement or he clearly has no idea where its going.

    • He is not ” blocking ” any pitcher in that system. The day any of them are ready to compete at a higher level than Morton, or any other pitcher on that active roster, you can bet they will be up there and taking their turn.

      • leo: Agree, we have some contenders for the Pirate Rotation of the future, but none are on the doorstep at this point. Tyler Glasnow, in your backyard at Altoona, will not turn 22 until August, and Kingham and Taillon are only in their age 23 seasons at AAA. I do not know enough about Sadler to place him in that grouping.

        We will need a replacement for AJ who is retiring after 2015, and my favorite right now is Tyler Glasnow.

        • No way they have anyone skip a level. Glasnow isnt such a finished product that they will skip AAA and have him be a ML starter to begin 2016. Really, the only thing stopping people from fawning over Taillon is the injury, and he will be ready to go by the end of this year. He seems in a perfect spot to step into the AJ role in 2015, letting Glasnow work out little things and be a very good pitcher when ready. You have Sampson looking ready for depth work in 2016, Kingham certainly ready for a shot next year, so plenty of guys “on the doorstep” in terms of ready to get a chance in the majors next year.

          Even if we assume they move Locke, you have 2 guys set in the rotation, Worley likely to be around, and Morton under contract. I cant imagine PIT will be in a rush to have Glasnow jump a level.

    • You hold on to depth guys because you cant build a quality team without that depth. Stewart is around because if/when Cervelli gets hurt, you dont get to have Sanchez starting and random name A as backup. Pirate fans should know better than any fans why catching depth is neat.

      Morton is a flawed pitcher, in that he will see his share of the DL. But even in some of his injured years he gives you 20-25 starts and overall quality stuff. He doesnt really block anyone since you need at least 7 SP to get through a season and i dont think anyone sees Sampson or Kingham as ready this year. No one going forward is really guaranteed a SP spot other than the top 2, and Morton has been a better SP than Locke. A healthy Worley may be better, but Locke isnt.

      2011, 2013, and 2014 all were over 1.5 WAR from Morton. 2 of those years at 150 inning or over with ERA and periphs at fine levels for a 3-4 starter. Effective for more than just a few months and if he repeats that injured yet usable reputation going forward he’ll be worth the money overall.

  • Good article. Liked the insight that Charlie gave. Explains why he was put on the DL as he was still working on recovering from his injury/surgery. Great example of why you do not rush back from injuries until you are at least mechanically 100% no matter the position you play. Hitters will ruin themselves by coming back too soon and compensating for the injury and change how they swing and/or throw and/or run.

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