Starkey: Pirates' Morton shows right stuff
It's quite enough to do the dirty work. One shouldn't have to talk about it.
Good, then, for Pirates starter Charlie Morton that a day after his memorable start in Cincinnati, he still didn't admit to intentionally plunking Shin-Soo Choo on his first pitch.
Morton, slated to start Sunday in Anaheim, played coy when the topic arose.
“I gotta work 'em inside,” he said.
That's OK. The rest of us knew. His teammates knew. And the Cincinnati Reds certainly knew that Morton was answering for Aroldis Chapman shaving Neil Walker's chin a night earlier.
This was a simple act of baseball justice, understood on both sides.
Back here, however, there was deeper meaning ascribed not only to Morton nailing Choo in the knee but also buzzing Joey Votto high and tight two batters later. The sequence was shaped as some sort of Pirates' rite of passage. People saw it as the skinny kid finally standing up to the neighborhood bully (never mind that the allegedly intimidated Pirates already had won four of seven from the Reds this season).
One talk-show caller went so far as to suggest that Morton deserved a statue.
“That's ridiculous,” Morton said. “There are many more worthwhile reasons to erect a statue.”
Yes, and as much as Morton merits praise for avenging a teammate — others have shirked the duty in recent years — there were many more worthwhile reasons to like his start.
“Ground Chuck” was back in form, inducing gobs of groundball outs. He permitted just three singles, no walks and no runs over five-plus innings. It was a significant step forward in his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.
Some wondered whether general manger Neal Huntington had gone mad when he kept signing injured pitchers last winter. But look now: Francisco Liriano has paid dividends, and if Morton can recapture his 2011 form — when he went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA — he'll be a bargain at $2 million (a pay cut of $445,000 from last season).
The key with Morton is to keep it simple. He is a thoughtful guy blessed and cursed with a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame and crazy talent. Maybe too much talent. Definitely too much thinking earlier in his career.
Pitching coach Ray Searage has streamlined Morton's menu. The featured items have been a four-seam fastball and sinker through two starts (the first shaky) in which Morton has posted a 1.74 ERA.
“I haven't thrown a cutter in a few weeks, as requested by Ray Searage,” Morton said. “I think I'll stick with this until I need to make a change.”
Morton, 29, freely admits that he has underachieved. He says he needed to grow up.
“I've always been a guy that coaches kind of gravitate toward,” he said. “But I've always been unable to do what I should be able to with my physical talent. I just never put it together.”
How dedicated was Morton to his tedious, months-long rehab from surgery in Florida? He bought a house in Bradenton.
“I don't know that we've had any other guys do that,” Pirates rehab coordinator Jeremiah Randall said. “To me, that just showed Charlie's commitment to the organization and to getting his elbow right.”
Randall met Morton every morning around 6:30 at Pirate City. Morton would then log a six- or seven-hour shift — running, throwing, lifting weights, doing physical therapy. After that, he would go home to his pregnant wife, Cindy, and work on the house, which needed nearly as much rehab as his right arm.
Charles Morton V was born about month ago.
“I think the (injury) gave Charlie some time to sit back and reflect on his career and his life to make sure he got everything right,” Randall said.
Morton figures maturity isn't something one can fake his way into.
“It's something you have to grow into,” he said. “You have to face a lot of challenges. Some guys have it right from the get-go. They come up at 21, 22, they're good to go. Some guys take a while.”
Nobody can predict how the Morton saga will turn out. But we know this much: He's willing to do the dirty work.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.