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Pitcher's change in mind-set provides results

CHICAGO -- Back in August, Charlie Morton's fourth loss in a row was a doozy.

The Chicago Cubs rocked the right-hander for 10 runs on seven hits in one-plus innings. Morton's record had slumped to 2-6 and his ERA skyrocketed to 5.51.

"The point came in the season where it was just like, what do I have to lose?" Morton recalled. "I had to try to be aggressive. I had to stop thinking so much."

There were times during his struggles when pitching coach Joe Kerrigan would jog out to the mound and give Morton a simple command: "Would you just stop thinking about it?"

Finally, Morton understood.

"He doesn't mean stop thinking about what I need to do to succeed," Morton explained. "But stop thinking about, 'Where is this ball going to go• Am I gripping it right• Am I doing this or that right?' Just go out there and try to execute a pitch, pitch by pitch. And I think I'm doing a better job of it.

"Before, I had to put an effort to get to the next pitch and shrug off the last one. I'm getting better at throwing the pitch and just moving on. It's easier to do that when you're getting good results, but I feel like it's coming along."

The results after Morton's nightmare on Waveland Avenue have been encouraging. Five of his next six outings were quality starts, though he got just two victories.

Wednesday, Morton climbed back atop the hill at Wrigley Field and crafted a masterpiece. He set a career high with eight strikeouts and yielded four hits in his first complete-game shutout.

Morton ended his season with a 5-9 record and a 4.55 ERA. He will go into spring training next year as the favorite to lock down the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation.

"You take away the one start he had here (in August) and his numbers have been pretty good," manager John Russell said. "I was very impressed with what he did. Everything worked for him. When you add the command that he had, everything was right what he wanted to do.

"He had a really good game plan. That's one of the things he's really improved upon -- knowing what he wants to do, being able to adjust. He's really worked hard on that."

In addition to pitchers' meetings and skull sessions with catchers Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo, Morton prepares for his starts by going over the hitters with right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. In fact, Morton likes to talk baseball with anybody who happens to wanders by his locker.

The atmosphere in the Pirates' clubhouse, Morton said, is different than what he was used to in Atlanta. There, he tried, without much success, to glean information from standouts such as John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

"It was more like they were telling you what you did wrong," Morton said. "Now, it's more like a conversation. I've talked more baseball here than in any other clubhouse I've been in. "

Morton has learned a lot from Zach Duke and Ohlendorf, who put together a breakthrough season.

"Here, he's got a lot of guys who are in similar situations as he is," Russell said. "Ross developed. Kevin (Hart) is going through some changes. Zach has turned things around. Charlie is able to talk to some guys who are still relatively young in their pitching process and watch how they do it."

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