By John Perrotto
If the Pirates have been noted for one thing during the PNC Park era — other than losing, of course — it has been having enigmatic starting pitchers.
There was Oliver Perez. The left-hander struck out 239 in 196 innings in 2004 but was shipped to the minor leagues two years later before being traded to the Mets.
There was Ian Snell. The little right-hander won 14 games in 2006 and had a 3.74 ERA in 208 innings the following year. However, he was sent to the minors in 2009 and traded to Seattle later that season.
Now there is Charlie Morton.
The Pirates had high hopes for Morton when they acquired him as part of a three-player package from Atlanta in a trade for Nate McLouth in June, 2009. They believed the right-hander had the raw stuff to be at least a No. 2 starter, maybe even a staff ace.
When Morton didn’t live up to those expectations, the Pirates remade him from a power pitcher into a sinker/slider guy last year. He responded with a solid season, going 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 29 starts while leading the major leagues in ground ball/fly ball ratio.
Yet instead of moving forward, Morton has followed in the footsteps of Perez and Snell by regressing. He leads the major leagues in losses as he is 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA after nine starts.
Morton’s fragile psyche has been well-documented during his years with the Pirates. He lacks confidence in his ability and tends to over think things.
Much like the case with third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates go to great lengths to never say a negative word about Morton. Perhaps that is why there is suddenly talk that Morton might not be completely healed from the hip surgery he underwent last October.
“Sometimes, you subconsciously hold back,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, referring to Morton’s fastball velocity being down from last season. “We’re trying to keep him open-minded about what he is feeling. He has to trust his delivery and not try to create more movement by altering his delivery.”
Morton, though, hasn’t complained of any physical problems. The Pirates were also fine with activating Morton from the disabled list in early April after he was originally expected to be out untilÂ at least lateÂ AprilÂ following the surgery.
Perhaps there is something physically wrong with Morton. Yet it sure seems as if he is going down the Perez/Snell path.
In other matters:
— Please take a moment and roll these numbers around in your brain: The Pirates are 25-25 going into Friday night’s game at Milwaukee despite averaging 2.91 runs a game, easily the worst mark in the national league. How amazing is that? If the Pirates find a way to get their offense going, it could be a fun summer.
— One scout who regularly covers the Pirates organization believes left-handed reliever Doug Slaten, called up from Class AAA Indianapolis on Monday when Juan Cruz was placed on the restricted list, should stick with the major-league club. Said the scout, “No one could touch in the International League and he was wasting his bullets pitching in Triple-A.”
— You know who the Yankees could use? A.J. Burnett, who has given up two runs or less in five straight starts since getting bombed for 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings at St. Louis on May 2.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 25 years.