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Pirates notebook: Morton could be back in early June

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

• What if the Pirates could add a pitcher with a 96-mph fastball and a four-pitch mix to their rotation? If all goes according to plan, the Pirates will do just that in two weeks. Charlie Morton (shoulder) made his second rehab start at Double-A Altoona on Tuesday, and the results were encouraging. The right-hander threw 4 23 innings, and his fastball was between 90-96 mph, according to manager Clint Hurdle. Morton is scheduled to throw 90 pitches in a rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday and 100 pitches in a final rehab start on May 31. If all goes well, Hurdle indicated the plan is for Morton to join the Pirates' rotation in early June. The odd man out likely would be Jeanmar Gomez.

“We won't have to worry about that for another 10 days,” Hurdle said. “We all believe that starting is Charlie's niche right now.”

Hurdle is curious to get a look at Morton, who has displayed increased velocity during his rehab work.

“The fastball velocity continues to be something I haven't seen a lot of,” Hurdle said. “I've seen Charlie 90-93; I'm getting 90-96 (in reports). That top-end number is unfamiliar territory for me.”

• The Pirates' staff entered Wednesday third in the National League in strikeouts (371), trailing only Cincinnati (381) and San Francisco (373). Hurdle said there's a strong correlation between the strikeouts and the staff's 3.36 ERA, fourth in the NL. The Pirates added another strikeout artist, Francisco Liriano, this month and are leading the league in ERA in May (2.54). “Your ERA can be manipulated by the number of balls put in play,” Hurdle said. “We've not had as many balls put in play because of strikeouts.”

• James McDonald's bullpen session Tuesday went well. He's scheduled to throw another side session on Friday. “So far so good,” Hurdle said. “There were no repercussions from (Tuesday). He didn't feel anything.” ... Former Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritche was named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year on Wednesday. George Washington, his alma mater, was picked to finish last in the preseason poll but finished fifth.

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