PIRATES – GIANTS REACTIONS
By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague
is no longer a one-pitch pitcher.
“We’re watching Charlie develop into more of a complete pitcher instead of a pitcher with a good sinkerball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday night.
Morton showed that as he worked 6 2/3 strong innings and combined with relievers Jared Hughes and Tony Watson on a six-hit shutout as the Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants 4-0 at PNC Park.
The Pirates won for the seventh time in their last eight games to improve to a season-high 25 games over .500 at 72-47. They sliced their deficit in the National League Central to 4 ½ games to the idle St. Louis Cardinals and maintained a four-game over the Chicago Cubs for the first wild card playoff berth.
Morton flummoxed the Giants in knots with his curveball as he had eight strikeouts and just two walks while scattering four hits. He showed he is indeed more than just a sinkerballer.
The curve has become a necessity for Morton to neutralize left-handed hitters.
“It was a pretty good pitch for me last season but I’ve really needed it this year,” Morton said.
“Left-handed hitters have really taken the lower third of the strike zone away from me because they’ve been looking for the sinker and having success against it. The curve has given me a pitch to get lefties out. It’s been a bit of evolution for me but you always need to evolve as a pitcher, as a person really.”
Morton, the philosophical type, then smiled.
“Everyone is evolving all the time,” he said. “Nobody ever stays the same.”
Hurdle, too, was impressed with Morton’s curve as Charlie threw a pretty mean Uncle Charlie.
“It has so much tilt and depth on it, and there’s enough fastball there that you can’t sit on the curve with him,” Hurdle said. “It makes it a challenge to square him up.”
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said it is a joy to stand behind Morton when he pitches the way he did Thursday and also last Saturday night at New York when he took a shutout into the seventh inning against the Mets before giving up a pair of home runs.
“It’s fun to play when he’s going well because he gets a lot of ground balls that lead to a lot of quick innings and you get on and off the field in a hurry,” Walker said. “He was really good tonight.”
Morton also drew praise from San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, who has led the Giants to three World Series title over the past five years.
“We just couldn’t generate any offense,” Bochy said. “Their guy was just really good. He had movement on his fastball and a good curveball. We just couldn’t get much going.”
–Walker provided the big blow for the Pirates, a two-run home run off Jake Peavy in the sixth inning that extended the lead to 4-0. The Pirates also struck against Peavy early with RBI doubles by Aramis Ramirez in the first and Jung Ho Kang in the third.
“Walk has been battling the last few weeks,” Hurdle said. “He’s hit some balls hard and not a lot has dropped in. It’s challenging. Everyone runs into those situations over the course of the year. We were kidding him in (batting practice) that he doesn’t hit (home runs) in BP but can drive them out as well as anyone in game situations. He showed that tonight.”
–The starting left side of their infield will likely be back by the end of the weekend.
Hurdle said prior to the game that both third baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer could be activated from the 15-day disabled list before the four-game series with the Giants ends Sunday night.
Harrison has been on the DL since July 6 with a torn ligament in his left thumb. Mercer has been out since July 20 with a sprained left knee.
Both are on rehab assignments with Class AAA Indianapolis. Each has played in five games and Harrison is just 1 for 19 (.053) while Mercer is 3 for 17 (.176).
The imminent return of Harrison and Mercer is going to create a situation where the Pirates have more quality players than lineup spots. Ramirez and Kang have filled in well at third base and shortstop.
“Too many good players.”
“Isn’t that going to be great?” Hurdle said with a smile.
Ramirez had hit .253 with one home run and 15 RBIs in 22 games since being acquired July 23 from the Brewers in a trade. Kang was hitting .329 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 37 games since Harrison was injured.
Hurdle said the Pirates know how they are going to distribute playing time once Harrison and Mercer return. Understandably, he was not ready to reveal it to the media because he has yet to talk with either player.
–Outfielder Travis Snider joined Indianapolis on Thursday after being signed as a free agent but the Indians’ game at Charlotte was rained out in the International League.
Snider was signed after being released by the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .237 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 69 games.
Snider played for the Pirates the previous three seasons before being traded to the Orioles on Jan. 27 for two minor leaguers. He will shift between left field and right field with Indianapolis.
–First baseman/outfielder Corey Hart was set to begin his second rehab assignment with Indianapolis since going on the disabled list June 22 with a left shoulder impingement.
He started his first rehab assignment June 30 but then ended it July 11 because of a strained right knee.
Signed as a free agent in the offseason, Hart is hitting .222 with two homers and nine RBIs in 35 games.
He will likely stay with Indianapolis until Sept. 1 when the major league roster limit expands to 40 from 25.
–Left fielder Starling Marte went 2-for-3 with a stolen base and was hit by a pitch to extend his hitting streak to five games. He is 9-for-23 (.391) during the streak.