Charlie Morton was originally scheduled to throw a rehab game tonight in Bradenton. Instead, that outing was changed to have Morton throw in extended Spring Training at Pirate City. The move was made to give a more controlled environment, where Morton was guaranteed more pitches and more ups and downs.
Extended Spring Training is very relaxed, allowing pitchers to end innings early if the pitch count is too high, or throw to extra batters if the count is too low. Regardless of how many outs they get in an inning, they can go back out the following inning for more work. Had Morton gone to Bradenton and had a 30+ pitch inning, that would have been the end of his outing. Or, the more likely scenario, since he would be facing A-ball hitters, would be short innings where he didn’t get his pitch count up, followed by finishing off his pitches in the bullpen, which doesn’t help his goal of carrying his mechanics into a live game.
“The intensity for me would probably be similar,” Morton said of the difference between extended Spring Training and High-A. “Getting under the lights against more seasoned hitters would be good, but honestly I think I’d get the same thing out of it.”
There were probably other factors involved, such as the fact that a lot of coaches were at Pirate City already (including Jim Benedict) and the Bradenton game was three hours away. Morton ended up throwing 93 pitches in six innings, giving up a run on four hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. After the game he said he felt like he was built up pretty well, and that he’s going through the challenge of maintaining his mechanics in the game.
As I wrote last week, Morton is trying to get back to the mechanics that worked so well for him in 2013 and at the start of the 2014 season. Those mechanics were thrown off by a hip injury he had last year.
“I was moving laterally a lot. I was moving towards the third base line,” Morton said of his mechanical problems. “And that was forcing me to open up my front side. That was a result of pitching through a core injury and a hip injury last year. Just trying to alleviate some of the pain every time I threw. So I started moving laterally, instead of moving toward home plate, which made it hurt even more.”
Morton said that this was exposed in Spring Training. His pitches were flat, with his sinker running a lot and not sinking, and the curveball moving laterally with not a lot of drop. That has changed after his time in extended Spring Training. An NL scout who watched him today said that the sinker looked great, but that the curve could still use some work to be sharper. The best news was that Morton said he’s got no issues pitching the way he needs to pitch.
“To know I can go downhill, be aggressive, and there be no pain there, that’s a big deal,” Morton said. He added that there was no pain during Spring Training, but that he was using his body the wrong way.
There’s no word yet on the next steps for Morton. He threw six innings at the start of the week, and is up to 93 pitches, so he’s close from the standpoint of being stretched out. The big question now is whether his mechanics are ready. I’m guessing he’ll get a start or two in the upper levels of the minors to give the mechanics a decent test before he returns to the majors.