Pirates win in marathon-like laugher

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 2:28 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — Batters can swing as hard as they want. Chances are, they're not going to make solid contact on one of Charlie Morton's pitches.

The right-hander is the best in the big leagues at inducing dribblers, dinks and slow rollers. Monday night, Morton paralyzed the San Diego Padres for four innings and survived a rocky fifth, as the Pirates pulled away for a 10-3 victory.

The game took 4 hours and 4 minutes to complete, making it the longest nine-inning home game in Padres history.

Morton (2-7) held the Padres hitless for the first four innings, showing how devastating his sinker can be when it's on. So, how has he claimed only two wins in 12 starts despite a decent 3.31 ERA?

Some of it has been bad luck, balls squirting through for cheap hits. Also, Morton has had lapses of control — he hit three batters Monday, raising his season total to a major league-leading 13. He also walked three batters.

“I have good stuff,” Morton said. “I induce weak contact. My stuff moves. Unfortunately, I also walk guys and hit guys.”

A little more help from his teammates wouldn't hurt, either. The Pirates blew two chances to deliver a knockout blow while Morton was still in the game, and did not pull away until striking for three runs in the seventh inning and three more in the eighth.

“Yeah, there's some funny things happening — some in his control, some out of his control,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Morton went into Monday's game with the lowest rate of hard-hit balls in play among major-league starters.

Through Morton's first 11 starts, batters had made solid contact on only 9.3 percent of balls they put in play against him. Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals had the second-best rate (9.5 percent), followed by Dallas Kerchel of the Houston Astros (9.6 percent).

Reliever Jared Hughes, who also makes a living with his sinkerball, said Morton has two things going for him.

“One, he changes speeds well,” Hughes said. “He has a really good breaking ball, a good changeup and a good sinker. That keeps hitters off balance. The other thing is late movement. The ball is moving so late over the plate and so close to the hitter that where they're swinging at isn't actually where it's going to end up.”

Some balls look like they will be over the inside part of the plate, but jam batters on their fists. Others dart away and are only tapped by the end of the bat.

Through the first four innings, Morton faced 17 batters. Only five balls were put in play. Of those, only three made it past the pitcher's mound.

Morton faded quickly in the fifth, when his pitch count soared to a very inefficient 98 — due in part to his career-high nine strikeouts.

The Padres scored two runs on three straight hits — including Everth Cabrera's RBI double to the wall in left-center and Seth Smith's well-struck single — to pull within 3-2. With the bases loaded, Morton struck out Tommy Medica to get out of the inning. It was the final batter he faced.

With Josh Johnson, Andrew Cashner, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly on the disabled list, the Padres are digging deep for starting pitchers. Monday, they turned to Tim Stauffer (2-2), whose first 12 appearances this year were out of the bullpen.

The linescore for Stauffer's start looked like he pitched in long relief: 2 23 innings pitched, four hits, two runs. He threw a whopping 71 pitches.

Jordy Mercer had a career-high four hits, including a 414-foot solo homer off Stauffer in the third inning. Neil Walker went 3 for 4, was hit twice and drove in three runs. The Pirates collected 16 hits, four of them for extra bases, with seven walks.

“If we all get hot at the same time, the sky's the time for us,” Mercer said. “We can hit the ball out of the park, we can run, we can do all kinds of good stuff.”

Pirates pinch-hitters went 3 for 3, including Gaby Sanchez's two-run double in the eighth.

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