Morton makes progress with effective outing

Pirates righty goes 6 innings, states case to be included in rotation

Morton makes progress with effective outing

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' brain trust typically takes a meeting to discuss personnel decisions, with everyone from manager Clint Hurdle to general manager Neal Huntington involved. They may have to put their heads together on Charlie Morton's season-opening fate.

April 12, in Milwaukee against the Brewers? Or, held over in Florida for a little extra tuneup in extended spring training?

Morton's effort Saturday against the Blue Jays may not have been conclusive. He was effective, particularly after clearing some early command hurdles. All told, he went six innings and allowed six hits. Two of them were home runs, one wind-carried to the opposite field. He also did not register a strikeout, a possible tip-off to still getting accustomed to a slightly revised delivery meant to lessen stress in the area of his labrum repair surgery six months ago.

Is any of that justification to hold him back, and shoehorn both Vance Worley and Jeff Locke into the early rotation?

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," Hurdle said. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

On Friday, Huntington had pointed out that Morton is "trying to get used to a new hip" and said the approaching Saturday start would "play a role" in how the season-opening rotation is assembled.

"We want to see how his next outing goes," the GM had said.

It went even better than suggested by his pitching line -- which was clean.

The two homers came with "an explanation," as it might go down in front of a judge.

Lefty-hitting Daric Barton pulled a long one on the first pitch because "he's not a first-pitch hitter and we were trying to steal a strike and I just grooved it," Morton said. Righty-hitting Danny Valencia "went with the pitch and put it up in the air" to the opposite field and looped it into a strong wind. And Toronto's third run scored on a breaking pitch punched into the opposite field.

Morton appeared to put good movement on his pitches, but he was challenged to put the pitches in good places for the first half of his outing. Then he retired the last nine men he faced, and overall induced 11 ground-ball outs -- his meal ticket.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton, implying a need to earn the staff's trust. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."

Hurdle applauded the effort, six days after Morton had been mistreated for nine hits and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings by the Astros.

"I thought he showed progress, especially as the game went on," the manager said. "The overall consistency got better. He maintained focus, stayed aggressive. A much better outing for him, a good step in the right direction."

And that direction could be Northwest, the Bucs' season-starting destination.

Tom Singer is a reporter for 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.