By John Perrotto
For a club serious about winning, the early-season performances of Charlie Morton and Jeff Clement would not be acceptable.
Yet Morton remains in the Pirates’ starting rotation and Clement continues to be their primary first baseman. Thus, as much as the Pirates claimed throughout the offseason and spring training that it was now about winning than rebuilding for the perpetually rebuilding franchise, the fact that both remain in pivotal roles seems to contradict that sentiment.
Morton is 0-3 with a 16.55 ERA after three starts. He looks like a pitcher who does not have a clue on the mound and is so dispirited that he used the word frustrated three times in one sentence while talking with reporters following Tuesday night’s 8-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park.
Clement is hitting .121 with one home run and three RBIs in 11 games. He, too, appears without a clue at the plate, his nine strikeouts and three walks evidence of his constant flailing of pitches outside the strike zone. At least, Clement’s confidence doesn’t seem to be in pieces as he continues to keep an upbeat demeanor.
Morton and Clement really have no need to feel any anxiety, though. Neither is in danger of being sent to Class AAA Indianapolis despite having minor-league options left.
In fact, the Pirates say Morton is firmly entrenched in the rotation and Clement is solidly their first baseman.
Of course, part of the reason is that the Pirates don’t have better alternatives.
When the Pirates needed someone to make a spot start last week at San Francisco as Ross Ohlendorf was scratched because of back spasms, they reached down to Indianapolis and grabbed journeyman left-hander Brian Burres. He was rocked for six runs in four innings.
The Pirates also need a starter for Saturday night’s game at Houston and will likely call up right-hander Brad Lincoln from Indianapolis. Though Lincoln is the Pirates’ best pitching prospect, he probably isn’t quite ready to face big-leaguer hitters. Yet he beat the other choices at Indianapolis, Kevin Hart or Chris Jakubauskas.
While Steve Pearce had a good spring and is playing first base at Indianapolis, he has proven beyond the shadow of doubt during the last three seasons at the major-league level that he is no better than Clement.
Thus, Morton and Clement are here to stay. But look at the bright side: Morton’s ERA has nowhere to go but down and Clement’s batting average has nowhere to go but up.
John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist for the Beaver County Times