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Biertempfel: Pirates' Morton, Walker are a hit

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker doubles during the fifth inning against the Brewers on Friday, June 6, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Saturday, June 7, 2014, 8:41 p.m.
 

Whenever Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton is pitching, there's a good chance somebody is going to walk away with a bruise.

No pitcher in the big leagues has plunked more batters this season than Morton, who has 13 HBPs in 12 starts. Last season, Morton was second in the majors and tops in the National League with 16.

Although he's lucky to never have to face Morton, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker is like a dart board for other pitchers. Walker has been hit by a pitch 10 times this season, the most in the majors.

On Monday, the Pirates and San Diego Padres combined for a whopping six hit batters in their nine-inning game. Not surprisingly, Morton and Walker figured in on five of those HBPs.

Morton nicked Carlos Quentin in the third inning, Jedd Gyorko in the fourth and Chase Headley in the fifth. Walker was hit in the fourth and eighth innings. Starling Marte was hit in the fourth.

It was only the second time in an NL game in the modern era (post-1914) that each team nailed three batters in the same game. The other time it happened was Aug. 15, 2007, when the New York Mets played — who else? — the Pirates.

“We were talking about that in the dugout,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Off the top of my head, I couldn't come up with another time it had happened. Six is a lot, especially with no warning (from the umpire) and really not a lot of angst.”

It might have been the most peaceful mass plunking in the game's history. The reason for the high body count didn't seem to be retaliation. Errant control was the culprit.

Seven of Morton's HBPs this season have come on curveballs or changeups he tried to throw inside. The other six were on sinkers.

“I don't know of any hitter who'd think somebody is going after them with offspeed pitches,” Morton said. “I hit Gyorko with a curveball that came out too early. Then I hit Chase with one that I held onto too long.”

Walker also did not claim there was malicious intent the two times he was hit. When Walker was nicked in the fourth, it loaded the bases with one out. The next time, it put runners on first and second with two outs.

Over his first three seasons, Walker was hit nine times in 1,701 plate appearances. Since the start of the 2013 season, Walker has been popped by pitches 25 times in 803 plate appearances.

“My job hitting in the two hole is to get on base any way I can,” Walker said. “If that includes getting hit by a pitch, that's just part of my job. I'm OK with that, as long as I'm not getting hit in the head or the back.”

The one spot on Walker's body that's like a magnet for baseballs is the outside of his right thigh.

“I probably have nerve damage there from as many times as I got hit there last year,” Walker said half jokingly. “It's just the way I get pitched: low and in. And I'm pretty far up on the plate, especially when I bat left-handed. It's just one of those things where I get hit a lot there.”

The Pirates keep track of every batter hit by a pitch — and how he reacts after being hit.

“We have numbers on every hitter in the league,” Hurdle said. “I'm sure most teams do.”

Sometimes a batter will inch away from the plate after taking a ball of his leg. Conversely, some pitchers might start letting their pitches drift back over the plate after hitting a batter.

The best players, Hurdle said, have no reaction after hitting or being hit.

“I was told a long time ago by Don Baylor, if you pay attention to the game, more often than not the highest percentage of elite players are those who have ownership over the inside part of the plate, whether it be a pitcher or a hitter,” Hurdle said.

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

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