Pirates Shutout Giants Behind Charlie Morton’s Dominant Performance

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates took game one of a four-game set against the Giants, shutting them out 4-0, and increasing their Wild Card lead over San Francisco to eight games. The Pirates are now a season-high 25 games over .500.

Charlie Morton had his good stuff once again tonight, holding the Giants scoreless over 6.2 innings, allowing only four hits while striking out eight batters.

“He was able to throw his fastball to both sides of the plate, stand some people up,” Hurdle said of Morton’s performance after the game. “The curveball played very well again. Sprinkled in some of the split change-ups, and again he handled the left-handers very, very well.”

Going into tonight’s game, left-handed hitters had a robust .874 OPS against Morton, and had a .416 batting average against his sinker, according to Brooks Baseball. Tonight, however, Giants’ lefties were only able to muster one hit in eleven at-bats, and struck out five times against him.

Morton credited his success against left-handers to his ability to pound his sinker inside. Morton’s success with his sinker made the batters susceptible to his devastating curveball.

“What makes my sinker effective against lefties is when I start the ball off [the plate], and then I work it back onto the corner,” Morton explained. “When I miss, it stays off the plate and I get the ball back, instead of getting singled to death, or hitting balls to the gap or going over the wall.”

Morton was able to execute this strategy much more frequently in 2014 than he has this year. Morton has always been extremely effective against right-handed hitters, but much less consistent with his execution against left-handers.

“Righties have hardly been an issue, it’s been the lefties,” Morton said “I think with the righties, I have a pitch I know I can go to, where I can steal a strike – And that’s down and in on his hands. With lefties, it’s that pitch that starts off [of the plate] and comes back and catches the inner-quarter of the plate. I did that really well last year – lefties weren’t doing as well on my sinker last year.”

His inability to execute his strategy was evident in his start against the Dodgers on August 9th, when the left-handed heavy Dodgers’ lineup battered Morton’s sinker. In that game, he gave up ten hits and lasted only five innings. Since making his adjustments, Morton has only allowed one hit over his last two starts against left-handers. Having the ability to consistently get lefties out is a facet of Morton’s game that he has struggled with at times in his career, but Hurdle believes that Morton continues to improve and evolve into a well-rounded pitcher.

“I think we are watching Charlie develop into a complete pitcher with a sinkerball, rather than just a sinkerball pitcher,” Hurdle praised.

Morton has the natural ability and repertoire to be a very strong number three starter when he executes his game-plan consistently against left-handed hitters. If he can continue this recent trend, the Pirates may have themselves the reliable third starter that they will need in a potential playoff series. Add in a healthy A.J. Burnett, and the Pirates will find themselves in great shape.

** The offense continued to swing the bats tonight, banging out nine hits against the Giants, including a two-run homer from Neil Walker in the sixth inning, extending the Pirates’ home run streak to 13 consecutive games.

The offense will be tested tomorrow when they face Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has been white-hot of late, giving up only two earned runs in his last 26.1 innings, while striking out a daunting 35 batters.

  • I felt bad for Chuck in the 7th. That curveball that hits guys in the back foot almost always is just *that* close to generating a swing, and what’s-his-name last night, I thought committed to his swing. If the bat head had come any more forward than it did, he would have struck out embarrassingly instead of being awarded first base.

    Even so, that was a great game he pitched, and Hurdle took him out at exactly the right time, doing exactly what I always hoped he would do with Chuck, and having someone ready in case things got sticky.

    • I definitely felt like with his pitch count and the way his curveball was working, he deserved a shot at finishing the 7th.

      • What I don’t understand is the logic behind Hurdle sending Morton out for the 7th, presumably to save an inning from the bullpen, only to use Tony Watson for the third night in a row WITH a four run lead.

        • I wondered this myself. I get that Bastardo didn’t look spectacular the other night against the two he faced but he was fresher. And if he can hold that 4 run lead you’ve probably got Watson and Melancon available tonight and Blanton available to pitch the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings on Saturday since he’s now untouchable.

        • Well, I think you gotta show confidence in your guys. What does it say to Morton if Hurdle doesn’t send him out in the 7th with a shutout going on less than 90 pitches? It says, I don’t trust you. I feel like he’s gotta do the same with Locke too. You gotta trust your starter to go as deep as possible if he’s less than 100 pitches. It was unfortunate that he hit 2 guys in that inning. I honestly don’t think he was wearing down.

          • I think he means the combo of those two moves is odd. Go for the bullpen save/confidence boost, but go all in on that and dont use Watson. Could have used Bastardo/Soria and seemingly saved 2 late inning arms for tonight.

            Was odd that he went for innings out of Morton but then still used Watson on the 3rd straight day.

          • I think that’s an antiquated approach to the game, Kozy. I understand it, and even believe you’re correct, but that doesn’t make it right.

            • It might be antiquated but I know Clint Hurdle believes it. That’s why he started Gerrit Cole in the last game of the season last year.

          • Also, i didnt really read the trust your starter sentence closely. I also disagree with that as NMR does, if you have a SP able to go 5 well but struggles 6-7, its good managing to take him out.

            Faith is great and trust is big, but Locke shouldnt ever go over 80 pitches late in this season.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 21, 2015 8:22 am

    Tonight we need to exact some revenge on Bumgarner….will Byrd likely be in their lineup tonight?

    I do have a question regarding the DL list – since I guess there are at least two varieties – the 15 day and the 60 day? My question is this…someone got injured yesterday, I think it was reliever McGee with the Rays – and its expected he will be out 6-8 weeks. Yet, they only placed him on the 15 day DL. I assume that is because if you put someone on the 60 day DL, they have to be out that entire time, even if they are ready before the 60 days are up? Is that how those are used?

    • I don’t know the answer to that, but it certainly seems like a good thing Neal went with Soria rather than try to acquire McGee, who was the clubhouse favorite target acquisition over here.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        August 21, 2015 10:51 am

        In hindsight, you are correct – although McGee would have cost a LOT more than Soria did – he may be the best LH reliever in the AL who is not also a closer…

    • Yes. The DL days are minimums. If they place him on the 60-day, he can’t return for at least 60 days. The 15 day DL has a minimum of 15 days, but he can return any time after that.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 21, 2015 8:19 am

    Very strong performance by Morton – its too bad he couldn’t be more consistent and generate those kind of results more often. He looked very good last night, he wasn’t falling behind in the count as much as he has in the past.

    Kang is just a dynamo – he’s been sort of like a Harrison 2.0 this year. A real spark plug.

  • Morton pitched a mentally tough game.

  • If you take out the 2/3 inning start where he gave up 9ER, Chuck has a 3.23 ERA and a 3.80 FIP this season. So yes, that’s a solid #3 starter.

    Chuck has now gone into the 7th with a shutout in 6 of his 16 starts. Bucs are 12-4 in his starts.

    Sure he drives us crazy, but it’s really time to appreciate what he’s bringing to this year’s Bucs.

    • The start vs Nats was definitely the outlier of his season, and you’re right about him giving Pirates a good chance to win when he pitches. My problem w GroundChuck lies in his ability to deal w adversity. One bad pitch or defensive play will cause a switch to be flipped and turn a gem into a loss far too often.

      • There’s no single running narrative associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates more ridiculous than the Charlie-Morton-Adversity garbage.

        We’re talking about the worst pitcher in all of baseball in 2010 who was seeing his career slip away before completely overhauling his delivery and repertoire turning him into a legitimate big league starter. A guy who saw that success vanish in less than a year and a half by blowing out his elbow, which he returned from better than ever, only to be forced under the knife once again with major hip surgery which threw him off so bad that it forced him to overhaul his delivery a second time. Three major surgeries and two reinventions in four years, and people think this guy can’t handle adversity?

        What the hell is going on here?

        • Heh

        • Scott Kliesen
          August 21, 2015 11:37 am

          Ok, take a deep breath NMR.

          I can’t speak for anyone else who has questioned Morton’s ability to deal with adversity, but what I’m referencing is at the micro-level. You on the other hand seem to be speaking about it at the macro-level.

          Two entirely different skill sets.

          • On any level, the idea that Morton struggles with adversity comes off as absurd. Its just as likely he is one of many many talents in baseball that struggles with consistency and thus is bad some games.

            On both a micro and macro level, you dont get to the majors and have multiple surgeries without serious mental strength. Takes big picture mental strength, and in game little details mental strength.

            • Your statement he struggles w consistency and thus is bad some games is what’s absurd.

              He almost always is consistently good. The reason his W/L record is nowhere near as good as his ERA suggests it should be, is his inability to make his best pitches when the situation calls for him to do so. See the Mets game last week as a recent example.

              I call that an inability to deal w adversity, you can call it what you want. But to suggest that’s absurd, is in fact absurd.

              • Charlie Morton is a two-pitch sinkerballer with a high-maintenance delivery and spotty command. That is in no way a pitcher with the skill set to consistently “make his best pitches when the situation calls for him to do so”. It just isn’t.

                When a starter has the kind of platoon split that allows a manager like Bochy to load his lineup with 6 out of 8 lefty position players, big innings are going to happen. And they have nothing to do with mentality.

                Certain fans have this odd inclination to make Charlie Morton out to be more than he is in order to play amateur psychologist for some reason.

              • So explain why he struggles in the first inning just as much as the 3rd time through the order. Explain that with the “inability to deal with adversity” mantra.

                Nearly every pitcher does certain things. Like give up runs early, and runs the 3rd time through. For non elite guys, its more pronounced and key to their success.

                Morton is not different outcome wise than many 4th pitchers. Its not lack of mental strength, its lack of being consistent in what he does (locate the 2 seam, handle the CB well, throw strikes).

                • I suppose in a way these guys are complimenting Morton by believing he’s actually a better pitcher than his performance would dictate; I just don’t happen to agree.

                  Take the name off the jersey and I wouldn’t expect *any* pitcher with as many issues repeating his delivery as Morton has to exhibit consistent plus command. When you’re against the platoon advantage as much as Morton typically is and don’t have a change up in your pocket, even slight hiccups in command can snowball.

                  • Thats really what drives me crazy in this (and others like it) argument. Its trying to make a guy seem very good to then prove why he isnt good is such and such reason.

                    Guy throws 92-93 from the right side, no change up, gets a ton of GBs. Of course that profile will struggle if he doesnt have good command some nights or his CB sucks some nights.

                  • I know Tim has written several articles talking about Morton’s stuff being “electric.” Maybe that’s why some of us fans have higher expectations of him than a sub .500 SP.

                    Even Jim Kaat in the national broadcast last night was speaking highly of his near 3,000 RPM curve.

                    If we took the name off the jersey as you suggest and showed you the dominance of his curve and movement of his sinker, would you honestly say this looks like a SP who loses far more starts than he wins?

                    • But thats the thing, his curve isnt always as dominate as it was last night. He sometimes has little feel for it and its either elevated or not actually generating swing and miss.

                      He does have good stuff…when he is controlling it well. But he struggles with consistent control and repeating his motion. Some nights, the curve isnt as tight. Others, he just slightly is elevating the 2 seamer. His dominate curve and electric sinker dont always show up or lack control needed to use them well.

                      Which isnt to say he is bad, he has good stuff and generates GBs. But he is inconsistent, and not just late in games. Early in games, and at times throughout a game.

    • Consistency is the key to appreciating Morton. We need for him to be a solid No. 3 in the Rotation and take on more of a leadership role with the younger pitchers. Games like last night are just what this team needed for a solid win and saving the bullpen.

  • Morton, the guy many people love to hate. Cant wait for his next “meh” start where the 80 post comment thread is rife with “cut him, he’s weak minded”.

    The beat rolls on.

    • That was the book on him when he came over from Atlanta. Having never, ever interacted with the man – why do you think he has that reputation? Because he’s quiet. Does being quiet and inconsistent mean you’re a head case?

      • Personally, i think it stems from him being a bit more open about how his process in games. He is a thinker, in that he’s always considering his game and analyzing it, even in game. I think people see him on the mound, hear him talk about what he’s doing, and think “he struggles enough that he’s not strong enough to handle adversity”.

        But as has been pointed out, the guy overcome a ton of adversity.

  • Dream scenario if the Pirates cannot catch St. Louis is for San Francisco and Chicago to finish the regular season tied and have to play a 1-game tiebreaker the day before the WC game, burning Bumgarner and Arrieta. And it goes 16 innings.

    • So you’re saying Bucs have no incentive to sweep this series?

      • No, he’s not saying that but somewhere in the back of my mind I had the random thought that maybe a four game sweep of the Giants may not, in the long run be a good thing. If the Cubs win the next three and the Giants get swept that just about does it for the playoff pairings. Giants would be 8 games out of the second wild card and, let’s be honest they are the only team that has a hope to catch the Cubs. I’m with Stephen, I would like to see the Bucs, if they don’t catch the Cards lead the second wild card by about six games going into the final week of the season, and I want the Cubs and Giants to be within one or two games going into the final weekend.

    • Methinks the Cubs would go with Lester in a one-game playoff- if it were to line up that way. But I like your thinking in that particular scenario. At the very least, Bumgarner wouldn’t be available to the Giants if there was a play-in game between the Bucs and Giants.

      • Not sure why Cubs go Lester unless they have to….or just are slaves to “he makes ace money so he goes” which isnt really how Maddon operates.

        Arrieta is pitching like a Cy Young candidate, did well against PGH, and can actually control the running game.