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Pirates' Morton goes for Tommy John

| Thursday, June 14, 2012, 10:34 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Charlie Morton's season-ending injury will test the Pirates' pitching depth. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BALTIMORE — Charlie Morton's season is over, and it could be at least a year before he gets back on the mound for the Pirates.

Morton had Tommy John surgery Thursday on his right elbow. The operation, which repaired a torn ulnar collateral ligament, was performed by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla.

“It's been a chronic thing,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Picture a rope that over time a little piece of string breaks and another little piece of string breaks. We got to a point where it was no longer functional.”

Morton, who is 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA, went on the disabled list June 1 complaining of elbow pain, but all concerned dismissed it as minor. He threw off flat ground last weekend, and the pain flared up again.

“Charlie tried to fight through it for a while,” said pitcher Jeff Karstens, who has been on the DL since April 18 with shoulder inflammation. “I tried to fight through it, too. It's not the smartest thing to do.”

The typical recovery time from Tommy John surgery is one year.

“Guys usually come back stronger than ever,” said reliever Jason Grilli, who had the surgery in 2002. “You look around the league, and there are more guys with the (scar) on their elbows than not.”

A.J. Burnett, Brad Lincoln and Erik Bedard, who started last night against the Orioles, also have had the operation. It took Grilli about 14 months to recover from his surgery. Since then, he has pitched in 284 games in the majors.

“I think the thing that's the hardest is getting confidence and control in your pitches and just trusting that it's healthy again,” he said. “When you start playing catch, it feels like, ‘Oh, my God.' But you go through the process. It's more (throwing) breaking stuff that's a little bit nervy, that you feel the most pain in recovery.”

Karstens won't rejoin the rotation until at least June 29. His shoulder rehab was put on hold by a strained hip flexor. Yesterday, he threw what pitching coach Ray Searage called a “light” bullpen session at Oriole Park. Karstens threw 15 fastballs from the slope of the mound and reported no problems.

Karstens is slated to throw a full, 35-pitch side session Saturday, then make a rehab start Tuesday for Double-A Altoona. Searage said Karstens must reach the 100-pitch mark before being activated, which means he will make at least two rehab starts.

“I wouldn't feel right about giving him just one,” Searage said. “The main thing is getting Jeff healthy and ready to go.”

Lincoln will remain in the rotation until Karstens comes off the DL. Huntington said he did not consider calling up Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811. Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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