Pirates' Morton giving batters sinking feeling
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 8:45 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO — The Pirates have added a rough approximation of an in-their-prime Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe to their rotation in August.
Webb and Lowe were the best groundball pitchers of the past decade at their peaks. They possessed two of the best sinkers in the game and battled year-in and year-out for the best groundball rates in the majors.
They are perhaps comparables for Pirates starter Charlie Morton.
Morton (5-3, 3.42 ERA) continued his superb August in the Pirates' 3-1 victory over the Giants on Friday. Over his past four starts, he has a 2.28 ERA. Perhaps more impressive is his 43-to-5 groundball-to-flyball ratio during that span, which has increased his groundball rate to 65.7 percent.
If Morton — who is a little more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery — had enough innings to qualify, he would lead baseball in groundball percentage and rank six points higher than major league leader Justin Masterson (59.4 percent) of the Indians.
Not since Derek Lowe had a 67 percent groundball rate in 2006 has a pitcher posted a groundball rate better than Morton's mark this season. Morton induced 12 more groundball outs Friday.
The scary thing for opponents? Morton said his feel for his sinker is improving. He allowed just one run in 72⁄3 innings Friday, his longest start since returning from elbow surgery.
“I think I'm getting a feel for it as my arm progresses,” Morton said. “I have less odd sensations in my arm. A better feel. That allows me to feel it more in my fingers. It really is a feel pitch, even though I really try to let it go. I feel like I'm getting it back.”
Morton has been a two-pitch pitcher most of the season. He shelved his four-seam fastball, cutter and changeup, but his sinking fastball is perhaps the best in the game. It has low- to mid-90s velocity and heavy break, akin to a batter hitting a bowling ball.
With Jeff Locke's second-half struggles, Wandy Rodriguez's sore elbow and rookie Gerrit Cole still refining himself, there's little doubt Morton is the club's third-best starting pitcher.
And Morton — who, along with Locke, came over in the trade that sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta in 2009 — believes there's still room for growth.
He said his next step is mixing in his changeup to have a weapon to combat left-handed hitters. Lefties are hitting .311 against him; righties are batting .251.
“I did throw it (Friday),” Morton said of his changeup. “Not effectively. I gave up a hard hit off of it, and I didn't throw it for strikes.”
Morton's other pitch is his curveball, which he has used as a strikeout pitch against left-handed pitchers. Gregor Blanco swung over the top of it twice for strikeouts Friday. Morton said he still is learning to trust the pitch.
“I think I'm still a little hesitant on some curveballs,” Morton said. “It's really hard to trust it fully.”
The pitch he does trust fully is his sinker. It's perhaps the best in the National League, and it will perhaps make Morton the best sinkerballer in the majors.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Top pitching prospect Taillon’s time with Pirates must wait a bit
- Pirates notebook: Martin finding power stroke
- Pirates notebook: Volquez, Morton struggle
- Spring training breakdown: Orioles 7, Pirates 6
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Pirates reserve outfielder Dickerson is also at home on soccer pitch
- Pirates notebook: Locke cautious with ‘pull’ in right side
- Leyland content in new role with Tigers, rules out a return to Pirates
- New Pirates pitcher Eppley brings special delivery to team’s staff
- Pirates outfielder Snider looks sharp in return to action
- Spring training breakdown: Pirates 5, Tigers 2