Pirates' Morton ready for second chance
BRADENTON, Fla. — Last season was beyond bad for Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton.
He won just two of his 17 starts with a brutal 7.57 ERA. By late May, he was battling shoulder fatigue as well as mental fatigue. He fretted about the importance of every pitch he threw to a point where the pressure became excruciating.
"It was a nightmare," Morton said. "There was a point last year where I hit a wall, and I didn't know where I was going."
Morton found relief in two diverse and unlikely places: Indianapolis and La Romana, Dominican Republic.
Playing at Triple-A and in winter ball, Morton rediscovered his confidence and proved to himself he still can pitch in the majors. If he can carry that over into spring training, Morton could land the No. 5 starter's job.
"I don't think there's any doubt he's learned some things," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's gotten to a good place mentally. He's in a good place physically. Charlie's got every intention of bouncing back."
Morton opened last season in the Pirates' rotation, but later spent 11 weeks with Triple-A Indianapolis — in part a rehab stint for his shoulder, but mostly a deserved demotion.
Indianapolis pitching coach Dean Treanor worked closely with Morton, getting him to relax on the mound and regain his focus.
Over the past three years, Morton has worked with six pitching coaches in the Braves and Pirates systems. While Morton was in Indy last season, the Pirates fired Joe Kerrigan and replaced him with Ray Searage.
"There's a lot to be said for stability in coaching," Morton said. "In reality, you are your own best pitching coach, especially when you get to the higher levels. It's about growing up and taking the reins."
When Morton rejoined the Pirates at the end of August, he found Searage's more laid-back approach appealing.
"It was, 'Go out and pitch and we'll simplify things a little bit,' " Morton said.
It worked. Morton snapped a personal six-game losing skid Sept. 22 against St. Louis. In his final start, Morton racked up nine strikeouts, the highest total all year by a Pirates pitcher, but dropped a 2-0 decision against Florida.
Wanting more time to work, Morton opted to play winter ball for the first time. He made three starts for the La Romana Toros.
"The baseball was good, really good competition and all that," Morton said. "But, culturally, it was good for me to go. You see it on the news, but to go down and experience it is different."
Away from the field and his team's resort hotel in La Romana, Morton saw the poverty that afflicts many Dominicans live.
"It gave him a more global perspective on life," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Now, he knows every pitch is not make or break. We do everything we can to win games, but there are some bigger things at work here sometimes."
Charlie Morton's 2010 was rocky at times:
17 games, 2-12 record, 7.57 ERA, 79.2 innings pitched, 112 hits, 79 runs, 67 earned runs, 26 walks, 59 strikeouts