FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sometimes pitchers have success without their best stuff. And sometimes, like with Charlie Morton on Sunday afternoon, they do what's gotten them here and fail, at least in the box score.
Morton's line reads that he gave up five runs on seven hits in three innings. But while he didn't have pinpoint command, he also wasn't all over the place. Sure, he loaded the bases in the first, but got out of it with a strikeout. He gave up all five runs in the second, an inning that saw three groundouts, three ground ball singles, a fisted flare to right and one decently, albeit not scorched, extra-base hit. It left the right-hander perplexed, to say the least.
"I didn't see any line-drive gap doubles and balls hit off the wall or over the wall," Morton said. "It was just a lot of ground balls in the right spot. It was just kind of weird. It's hard for me to assess that in terms of the lack of success in the statistical analysis.
"It's hard to assess an outing like that, because really, what went wrong was usually what makes things go well for me, which is getting ground balls. I feel like I did what I was trying to do in terms of pitch to contact, getting weak contact. At the same time, I didn't do what I was trying to do, which is get people out and not letting them score runs."
Morton led the National League in ground ball-flyball ratio in 2011, so it's not surprising that four of the nine outs he recorded on Sunday were ground balls. The fact that five more ground balls turned into base hits is an a bit of an occupational hazard for a pitcher like Morton, though Sunday's outing was an extreme lesson.
"Those things do happen," Morton said. "I didn't think the probability was that high that it was going to keep happening. Those things do happen in baseball."
"I felt he's in the spot we anticipated him being in right now," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Second time out, three innings, 51 pitches. On the upside, nine balls were on the ground. On the other upside, 11 of 18 first-pitch strikes. On the other upside, 15 hitters put the ball in play in three pitches or less."
Maybe more important than the result is Morton continued to report no problems with his hip, which was surgically repaired during the offseason. It was his second outing of the spring and good physical reports are only bettered by Morton getting closer and closer mentally to the starter everyone saw on the mound in 2011.
"The hip is fine," Morton said. "It's getting there. I'm learning to let go of the idea that I had surgery and I'm coming back off of surgery and protecting it subconsciously. I'm not out there worrying about my hip. I'm just letting go, letting the ball fly the way I can throw it, just getting up there and competing."