Morton feeling good, looking to start in April

Pirates pitcher says surgically repaired right hip hasn't been an issue

Morton feeling good, looking to start in April

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The arm action is shorter. Charlie Morton is hoping it will keep him on the mound longer. April to September would be about right.

Morton doesn't know how it will end; nobody can, and the right-hander has had his share of unwelcome surprises. But he does have a pretty good feeling of when it will begin: In early April, whenever his turn in the Pirates' rotation first comes up.

This may not be what some expected to hear from the 31-year-old Morton, who underwent surgery on Sept. 26 for labral repair in his right hip that had also led to athletic pubalgia (sports hernia). The post-op word was that Morton might not be seen until midseason -- even though he had made a prompt return from the similar operation on his left hip after the 2011 season.

"This time it wasn't just the hip, so the question was how I would react to [the pubalgia]," Morton said. "But everything feels normal. After the first few weeks on crutches, there's been no pain and my range of motion is good."

Thus, Morton was on one of the mounds in the Bob Friend bullpen on Thursday, going through a 33-pitch session three days after an initial 31-pitch workout. He delivered pitches to catcher Tony Sanchez without dropping his arm as far down or drawing it as far back as previously -- the more compact delivery designed, among other benefits, to reduce stress on his midsection.

Morton may even be ahead of the pace of his recovery from the Oct. 10, 2011, operation on his left hip. Then, he wasn't throwing 33-pitch bullpens on the camp's first official day. He credits his condition to having rehabbed this time with Jeremiah Randall, the Bucs' rehab coordinator on the Minor League level. As a year-round Bradenton resident, since mid-2012, Morton could be an outpatient at Pirate City.

"That's made all the difference," Morton said. "There was just more motivation, more inside guidance."

There would appear to be no urgency for Morton's availability, from both a team and personal perspective. The Bucs have a nice cache of starting pitchers to pick up the slack. And Morton will be in the middle of a three-year contract, removing the need to earn his next payday, as was the case back in 2012.

Of course, that is not how the athlete himself ever thinks.

"I'll never get complacent just because I have a contract. That has never been what drives me," said Morton, adding with a shrug, "besides, I want to keep pitching, to keep competing, beyond next season. Spending any more time on the DL would be a problem."

Morton has been in the Majors for seven seasons (he broke in with the 2008 Braves). He has pulled DL time in five of them. The 2014 incident irks him the most because it curtailed what he considers his best season, despite dealing with the discomfort long before it landed him on the DL on Aug. 17.

"That was very disappointing, because it halted all the progression I'd made," he said.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.