Pirates notebook: Morton shows off new weapon
LAKELAND, Fla. — With one pitch Tuesday, Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton demonstrated why he could be better this season than he was a year ago while making a strong return from Tommy John surgery.
In the third inning at Joker Marchant Stadium, Morton threw a diving split-changeup that Tigers left-handed hitter Don Kelly swung over the top of for a strike. As good as Morton was last season — he went 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA and would have led baseball in groundball rate had he enough innings to qualify — Morton struggled against left-handed hitters. Morton lacked a third pitch to complement his sinker and curveball, and lefties hit .302 against the right-hander. The lack of a third pitch is an issue in the National League Central Division, which features a number of impact left-handed bats.
After discovering the hybrid split-change grip late last season, Morton has refined the pitch in bullpen sessions this spring. On Tuesday, he demonstrated its lefty-neutralizing potential.
“I threw one today. It was a good one,” Morton said of the 85 mph pitch to Kelly. “I'm trying to throw it more in bullpens and get a better feel for it. It's been decent in bullpens, but taking it into a game is a different story. It's a feel pitch, and at the same time you really have to throw it. It's an interesting combination.”
The importance of the pitch was underscored later in the at-bat. Kelly slashed a hanging Morton curve for a double. It was the only hit Morton allowed in three scoreless innings. His biting 91-94 mph sinker produced five groundouts.
Locke scratched, Cumpton struggles
Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke will not make his scheduled start Wednesday because of what the club described as “tightness” in his right side. Locke is competing with Edinson Volquez for the club's final rotation spot.
Locke was excellent in the first half of 2013, going 7-1 with a 2.15 ERA to earn his first All-Star Game invite. But Locke regressed in the second half of last season and was briefly demoted to the minor leagues. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had no postgame update on Locke's status.
Brandon Cumpton, another potential back-of-the-rotation arm, struggled Tuesday, allowing two runs (both unearned) and four hits in two innings.
Polanco stays hot
No matter what Pirates No. 1 prospect Gregory Polanco does this spring, general manager Neal Huntington said over the winter the prized outfielder was unlikely to break camp with the major league club. That does not preclude Polanco from making it a difficult decision.
Polanco registered two hits off Detroit starter Rick Porcello on Tuesday. Polanco used his speed to beat out an infield single in the first inning and lashed his second double of the spring in the third.
Polanco is batting .333 this spring and is tied with Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Chris McGuiness with a team-best five hits.
“He's doing some good things,” Hurdle said. “The awareness has picked up (when) you hit a guy third. … (Porcello) hangs a breaking ball, and (Polanco) bangs it off the wall. He has a good path to the ball and focuses on the big part of the field.”
Polanco is rated as the No. 10 overall prospect by Baseball America.
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.
- Two wild-card format hurting Pirates in short term
- Gameday: Pirates at Brewers, Sept. 1, 2015
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- Biertempfel: Pittsburgh native faced quick learning curve as Marlins GM
- Starting 9: Pirates place renewed emphasis on nabbing base-stealers
- Pirates notebook: Burnett encouraged by extended simulated game
- Patience serves as virtue amid prospect Glasnow’s quest for majors
- Lacking 2 of his pitches, Pirates’ Morton can’t find rhythm in loss to Marlins
- Pirates turn nifty double play in 9th, edge Marlins
- Pirates notebook: Hurdle’s faith in Polanco pays off