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Pirates starting pitcher Morton is 'way ahead' in his injury rehab

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — As Charlie Morton took the mound at Pirate City to face his first hitter in more than nine months, he wasn't thinking about what he'd throw or how he'd feel.

“The day before surgery I got lunch in Pensacola with my wife,” Morton said. “That's what I thought about. (Throwing live batting practice) just didn't feel that far removed from the last time I did it.”

The Pirates' right-hander threw 12 pitches — all fastballs — to two different batters in his first live batting practice since the season-ending surgery June 14, 2012. Jim Benedict, special assistant to general manager Neal Huntington, observed the session and said that Morton is “way, way ahead” of where he should be physically.

The emphasis right now, Morton said, is on continuing to do everything mechanically and physically correct before he starts incorporating the competitive side of pitching. He and Benedict have worked during the rehabilitation process to simplify his pitching motion and reduce stress on his elbow.

Morton was playing in pain periodically for three or four years. There were times when the pain would go away, but it always came back. He was hurting last season after his return from offseason hip surgery, but the symptoms also weren't typical of an ulnar collateral ligament tear, he said.

“My velocity didn't go down substantially; I was still throwing between 87 and 91 or 92 (mph), and my control didn't really suffer,” he said. “My control in the zone suffered, but it wasn't like I was spraying balls left and right and putting them off the backstop. It just … hurt. When they told me there was something wrong I wasn't surprised. I was actually relieved. I knew what was causing the pain and the discomfort.”

Morton had 11 bullpen sessions before Monday's batting practice. With a projected recovery period of at least 12 months, rehabilitation has taught him to focus on what needs to be done that day and nothing more.

“(Morton) has just given it everything he has and put himself in a position to be successful, and we're working to allow him to continue to grow and develop and come back and be ready to help us,” Huntington said. “You start adding Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton to the club at some point this spring or summer ... those are two pretty good additions for us, and our hope is that we're going to have some very challenging decisions to make as they're ready to go.”

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