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Pirates notebook: Despite new contract, Morton motivated

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 7:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws in the bullpen Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton prepares to throw in the bullpen on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws in the bullpen next to pitching coach Ray Searage on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — After signing a three-year contract extension in December, Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton was relieved he won't have to worry about money matters for a while.

That feeling lasted for ... oh, a couple of minutes or so.

“There are new responsibilities that come with it, and that cancels out any relief I might have felt from it,” Morton said. “I feel there is a greater responsibility on me to hold up my end of the bargain and earn it. It's almost like whatever load may have been taken off my back, I have a new outlook on things. I have a new responsibility.”

The deal is worth at least $21 million and bought out Morton's first two years of free agency. He will make $4 million this year and $8 million each in 2015 and '16. There's also a $9.5 million team option for 2017.

“I don't want to think about money when I'm pitching,” Morton said. “I don't think that's beneficial anytime. But it is healthy to set goals and have expectations for yourself that are based on some sort of objective thought process.”

Morton, 30, is nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He has been in the majors since 2008 but only twice has made more than 18 starts in a season.

Last year he came off the disabled list in mid-June. By August, he had built momentum and reeled off a career-best four straight wins. He ended the season with a 7-4 record and a 3.26 ERA in 20 games.

“Charlie Morton, stuff-wise, is a front-end guy,” MLB Network analyst Al Leiter said. “It's all about consistency.”

Grilli takes it slow

Closer Jason Grilli looked on from behind the bullpen fence Saturday while the rest of his usual group — Edinson Volquez, Tony Watson and Francisco Liriano — threw their bullpen sessions.

According to the Pirates, Grilli is healthy and merely got an extra day's rest.

“Just taking my time,” Grilli said.

Grilli, 37, missed two months last season due to a strained right flexor tendon.

“We've got a few guys who, based on the day, we'll go a little slower with,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Some of the guys we've got more experience with, we communicate with them and just try to play it along. We're in no hurry to peak them because we've got time in front of us.”

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who sat out four months due to chronic forearm discomfort, also is on an extra-rest routine at this point in camp.

Samson, in reverse

Last spring, left-hander Jeff Locke, who usually keeps his hair long and shaggy, showed up in camp with a close-cropped style. He let it grow out during the season and — coincidentally, of course — the longer it got, the more he struggled on the mound.

Locke chatted a few days ago with close friend A.J. Burnett, who raised the topic of Locke's locks.

“The last advice A.J. gave me was, ‘When you cut your hair, cut it short,' “ Locke said with a laugh. “He told me that was what it was like the last time I was any good. Those were his parting words.”

Locke reported to Pirate City this week with short hair.

Around the horn

Outfielder Starling Marte and first baseman/outfielder Andrew Lambo reported to camp Saturday. Position players are not required to check in until Monday night, and the first full-squad workout is set for Tuesday. ... The Pirates purchased the property next to McKechnie Field that is occupied by Popi's Place I, a longtime breakfast spot for fans and team employees before Grapefruit League games. The restaurant will be razed, and the land will be used for parking and, in the long term, a possible expansion of the McKechnie Field souvenir store.

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

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