One day after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton said he remains optimistic that he will recover in time to be on the Opening Day roster.
Morton has been pitching with a hip problem for a few years, though it wasn't until the latter part of the 2011 season that the right-hander felt it was affecting his performance. While speaking on the phone Tuesday, Morton said that he made the decision to have this surgical procedure after having a doctor examine his hip again last week.
"The opinions of surgeons were that I was going to eventually need it fixed, and this year, it got pretty bad," Morton said. "It was a preemptive thing to avoid further complication down the road. It will calm the symptoms in the hip now and increase the function of the joint. I'm hopeful that it's not going to be an issue again, but I could tell that this year it was affecting me on the mound."
The Pirates' statement regarding the surgery noted that the recovery time for this type of procedure is approximately six months. Dr. Thomas Byrd performed the surgery in Nashville, Tenn., and told Morton that the recovery window can be as little as four months. Morton said he's hopeful that his recovery time will fall in the lower part of that four-to-six-month range.
"We're going to see how things progress," general manager Neal Huntington said when asked if he shared that same optimism. "We're way too early to predict."
Morton will be on crutches for at least four weeks, and he expects to begin playing catch again in about 2 1/2 to three months.
Morton said he knew last November, after visiting a surgeon in Vail, Colo., that he had a tear in his hip. He opted against surgery at the time, preferring to see if he could target the area of discomfort simply through treatment.
That worked out early in the season, but it became a problem as the summer went on. The re-emergence of the issue prompted Morton's decision to opt for surgery this offseason.
"If I didn't think it was affecting me," Morton said, "I wouldn't have had the surgery."
Despite the hip complications, Morton had a breakout season. He finished 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA and led the staff with 171 2/3 innings pitched. Even in September, when the hip discomfort was at its worst, Morton posted a 4.43 ERA. He had an ERA of 2.84 in six August starts.
The possibility of Morton not being ready to pitch out of the rotation at the start of the season could have an impact on the Pirates' pursuit of starting pitching this offseason. Pittsburgh had already penciled Morton in as one of the team's five expected starters.
"I don't think it significantly changes our plans," Huntington said, "but it does reinforce the importance of starting pitching."
Morton is also a first-time arbitration-eligible player this winter. Assuming the Pirates do not believe there will be any complications from this procedure, they are still expected to tender Morton a contract.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.