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Pirates right-hander Morton nears return

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws Wednesday Jan. 9, 2013 during minicamp at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. — In about three weeks, Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton will climb on a mound at the team's spring training complex and test his surgically rebuilt elbow. After that, if all continues to go well, it won't be long before he's pitching again in the big leagues.

Although he's been out of action for seven months, Morton is not looking ahead with out-of-control anticipation.

“I didn't necessarily look at it as a ‘goal' to get back. I look at it as my job to get back,” Morton said. “It's going to be a big deal, don't get me wrong. But I don't think I'm going to pop champagne bottles or anything like that. I'm going to look at it as a blessing and a reward for doing what I needed to do.”

In the meantime, Morton is savoring small victories during his rehab.

“They're letting me wear cleats today,” Morton joked Wednesday morning before starting another closely supervised workout of sprints and soft toss at Pirate City.

Morton had Tommy John surgery June 14. Not long after, he and his wife moved to Florida and he began a long, methodical rehab process.

“The one thing I hear is, take it slow,” said Morton, who keeps in touch with other pitchers who've had the surgery. “While you want to get back as soon as possible, it's such a long (layoff) that it's not worth a risk just to be back a couple weeks ahead of schedule.”

Morton's rehab has followed the usual template: workouts to keep his legs and core strong and a gradual buildup of the workload for his right arm.

Picking up a baseball for the first time post-surgery was a special day. Then he lobbed the ball from 60 feet, then 90 feet and finally 120 feet on flat ground. At first, he threw every other day. Now, he goes on back-to-back days, then takes a day off.

It was odd, Morton admited, being away from the team as the regular season progressed. The playoffs and World Series came and went, and Morton plodded along on otherwise empty fields and workout rooms. The holidays came and went. Now, spring training is a month away.

“It's really gone by pretty quick,” he said. “There was the monotony of coming in and doing the same thing every day, but it's no different than what a lot of people do. I'm looking forward to getting back (in action), but I know that I'll get back what I put into it.”

Morton expected to be sore after his first soft toss session, but was not. These days, Morton's achy muscles let him know he's making progress.

“The first few days I threw, I didn't feel anything. I felt great,” he said. “And then you start to do things, your mind goes back to how you used to throw and you start to use muscles you used to use. You can feel the pulling, some tightness, and your body's adjusting the whole time. Your body is healing, breaking down and building back up, every day.”

Throwing off a mound will be a major milestone in Morton's recover. Yet he appears neither anxious nor over-eager for the day to get here.

“Three weeks does not seem far at all,” Morton said. “When you're told you're not going to pitch again for a year, those time frames put things in perspective. So, three weeks? All right.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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