Pirates notebook: Morton content with normal, for now

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 5:18 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. — Two innings of work in the second game of spring training might be ho-hum to most pitchers. For Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton, it's something else.

“This was a hint of normalcy,” Morton said Thursday after tossing two scoreless frames in an 8-2 rout of the New York Yankees. “Things the past few spring trainings have been kind of weird.”

Morton missed all of last spring recovering from Tommy John surgery. In the years before that, he was coming off a bad season or just trying to catch management's eye.

This spring, Morton is healthy and signed a three-year, $21 million contract extension in December. He has nothing to worry about at this stage except getting the feel for all his pitches.

The sinker is Morton's starting point. The pitch is at its best when he's able to throw it down and in, with conviction, against right-handed batters. After he gets comfortable with that, Morton wants to expand it to all of his pitches.

“That feel I get is hard to describe,” Morton said. “It feels like I'm powering the ball down. If I can move that around the zone with conviction, that's perfect. I think I did well with that today.”

Morton rediscovered his sinker in 2011, and it rejuvenated his career. On Thursday, he threw a few sharp front-door sinkers against left-handed batters Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.

“That's something I need to do to be effective against lefties because they hit, what … .350, .360, maybe .400 or .500 off me?” Morton said, grinning. “That's what I have to do: move the sinker around.”

Locke's unlikely idol

Thursday's game was the first this spring for Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who plans to retire after this season and start counting the days until he's inducted into the Hall of Fame. In the fourth inning, Pirates lefty Jeff Locke got Jeter to ground out to third base.

It was the first time Locke faced Jeter in a game.

“I don't care if it's Wiffle ball or the big leagues, it's cool,” Locke said. “He's somebody I idolized as a kid.”

That's a bold statement, considering Locke, a New Hampshire native, grew up a Boston Red Sox diehard.

“He's the only Yankee I gave a pass to,” Locke said. “I always enjoyed watching him play, even to this day, exhibition game or anything. It's just the way he handles himself on a daily basis. You know he comes to play hard.”

Until Thursday, Locke said his favorite memory of Jeter was when the Yankees captain played against Locke's Double-A team during an injury rehab assignment.

“I didn't pitch that day. That's why it's my favorite memory,” Locke said with a laugh.

Another option at first base?

Brent Morel, who last week was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays, has a chance to stick as a backup third baseman — and perhaps a first baseman. A right-handed batter with some pop, Morel played three games at first base with the Chicago White Sox last season.

“Toronto was planning on having him work out at second base,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “First base is something we're going to explore.”

Morel was the White Sox's everyday third baseman in 2011, when he batted .245 with 10 homers and a .653 on-base plus slugging percentage.

“It was a good first year,” he said. “I learned the ups and downs.”

The next season, however, was mostly about the downs. He suffered a herniated disc in his back during 2012 spring training but tried to play through it. He eventually went on the disabled list and sat out the rest of the season.

The Pirates have been scouting Morel since 2011. Hurdle said the club “had interest” in December when Morel was waived by the White Sox and claimed by the Blue Jays.

Media matters

MLB Network Radio will broadcast live from Pirates camp from 4-6 p.m. next Friday. ... At least four Pirates games will be televised by Fox: May 24 vs. Washington, May 31 at Los Angeles, June 21 at the Chicago Cubs and July 12 vs. Cincinnati. All four will start at 7 p.m. The Pirates also will make three appearances on Fox Sports 1: April 26 at St. Louis, May 17 at the New York Yankees and Aug. 30 vs. Cincinnati. All of those games will begin at 4 p.m.

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

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