Morton's first rehab outing encouraging

Morton's first rehab outing encouraging

PITTSBURGH -- No one yet knew what Charlie Morton's next step would be. But everyone -- manager Clint Hurdle, Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage, Morton himself -- agreed that the last step had been quite impressive.

Pitching for the Curve in his first rehab outing on Friday night, Morton blanked the Harrisburg Senators on two hits though seven innings. He threw 84 pitches -- 58 of them for strikes.

That was a little better than the last time Morton faced batters wearing different uniforms from his. On April 4, in his final exhibition start, he threw 39 balls and 31 strikes in 1 2/3 innings against the Phillies.

That convinced Pirates brass that it would be a good idea for Morton to remain in Florida and continue getting comfortable with a body altered by September labrum surgery. A month of sideline and sim-game work brought Morton to Friday's Eastern League start.

"It was a lot better than it has been for a while," said Morton, back in the PNC Park clubhouse on Saturday. "I was able to throw all my pitches, got a lot of ground balls, and by the end I was just competing without having to think about my mechanics."

Meccage filled in Hurdle with a very detailed and glowing report.

"He used all three of his pitches -- sinker, breaking ball, change. Only two fly balls, a lot of strikes," Hurdle said. "A very encouraging performance."

To determine Morton's next step, "We'll all have to sit down and talk," said Hurdle, referring to pitching coach Ray Searage and general manager Neal Huntington.

The objective is clear to Morton, whose preseason with the Bucs had actually gotten off to a clean start (one run in his first five innings, across two starts).

"My stuff was pretty good," Morton recalled, "but the command wasn't there. It's being able to throw strikes in the region where I can be effective. I believe I can go get Major League hitters out, but I need the reps to feel confident in my delivery.

"Being very conscious of what your body is doing takes away from the competitive side. It's not just going out there -- it's getting the job done, winning games. I don't want to come back here and ease into it; I want to be the best pitcher I can be."

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.