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.