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Pirates pitcher Morton expects to be ready for Opening Day

BRADENTON, Fla. — Although he will be a bit behind the rest of the pitching staff when spring training begins next month, Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton still hopes to be ready by Opening Day.

Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He began soft- and long-tossing in December and this week is doing similar light workouts at the team's voluntary, five-day minicamp.

"Everything I do is done on the side of caution," Morton said. "But I think I can get back on time."

Morton will resume workouts at Pirate City on Feb. 1, about three weeks before pitchers and catchers report for the official start of spring training.

There's no target date yet for Morton to throw off a mound. Pitching coach Ray Searage said Morton will have fewer bullpen sessions under his belt than the rest of the staff when camp opens.

"It won't be that many, but it's still going to factor into it," Searage said. "If he's not ready to throw batting practice here at Pirate City (by the end of February), I'll get him out early in the morning and throw BP over at McKechnie Field before games."

The Pirates open spring training camps in early March and start the regular season April 5 at PNC Park. But there is no need to rush Morton back into the rotation. Because of off days, they will need a fifth starter just once in the first two weeks of the season.

"I trust Charlie to be honest with me," Searage said. "All of us — me, Charlie and (the training staff) — will make an even-minded decision. Right now, I'm very optimistic, but I'm still going to be cautious with him."

Last season, Morton went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 29 starts. He led the staff with 171 23 innings pitched.

Packing it on

Catcher Tony Sanchez deleted all the videos of himself at the plate last summer, when he hit a career-worst .241 in 118 games for Double-A Altoona. He has spent this offseason rebuilding his swing, regaining his confidence and — perhaps most important — bulking up.

Sanchez weighs 225 pounds and reported to minicamp more muscular. Last season, he played at 210 pounds and said he typically lost 4 pounds every game he was behind the plate.

"I know I can drive the ball at this weight," Sanchez said. "And I can still move well behind the plate and run down the first-base line. Last year, I wasn't hitting the ball like a man."

Another reliever in mix

The Pirates signed lefty reliever Doug Slaten to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Slaten, 31, sat out almost three months last season with an elbow injury and was non-tendered by the Washington Nationals.

Good turnout for minicamp

Thirty-eight players with major-league experience, including Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, are attending minicamp. Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Pirates were allowed to officially invite no more than 15 players who are on the 40-man roster and who have less than three years' service time.

According to manager Clint Hurdle, Walker encouraged his teammates via calls and text messages to attend these voluntary practice sessions.

Several notable minor leaguers also are working out at Pirate City this week, including Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Josh Bell and Luis Heredia.

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