Pirates notebook: Morton hopes to return this season

Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton walks past manager Clint Hurdle in the dugout before a game against the Braves on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton walks past manager Clint Hurdle in the dugout before a game against the Braves on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 4:33 p.m.

Although he was diagnosed Monday with a sports hernia which might eventually require surgery, Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton hopes to pitch again this season.

“I want to try to come back and contribute this year,” Morton said Wednesday. “There are ways to mitigate the pain. But it's not really getting any better, and it is affecting the things I do between starts.”

Morton was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with what the team described as “right hip inflammation.” On Monday, Morton was examined in Nashville, Tenn., by hip specialist Dr. Thomas Byrd, who diagnosed a hernia.

The injury occurred, Morton said, during the fourth inning of his start June 2 against the San Diego Padres. He left that game after allowing two runs on three hits in the fifth inning.

Morton got extra rest after that start and did not pitch again until June 9. In that game, he gave up one run in seven innings and picked up his second of three wins in a row.

Over his last five starts before going on the DL, Morton went 0-3 with a 6.58 ERA.

“Some of my better starts were between June 2 and now,” Morton said. “There are ways to pitch through the discomfort. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't.”

Morton said his between-starts routine — running, weight lifting and such — has been disrupted by the hernia.

An athlete with this type of injury often can return to action after four to six weeks of physical therapy. If the pain returns after that, however, surgery may be required.

Morton said he won't know whether he will need surgery until after the season.

“It's possible that I will,” he said. “We'll see. I've got some free time now (on the DL), so that might help. It's just about putting myself in the best situation for when I come off the DL. I'm not planning on anything other than using this time to put myself in a better spot than I was in (six) days ago.”

Manager Clint Hurdle is optimistic Morton will return before the end of the season.

“We're going to try to calm down the hip,” Hurdle said. “From the conversations we've had with the doctor, there is a possibility of a return-to-pitch program.”

Rookie struggles

Right fielder Gregory Polanco didn't start for the second straight game. And not just to keep the left-handed hitting rookie from facing Braves lefty Alex Wood. Polanco has been slumping.

“It's been hard on Greg lately,” Hurdle said. “He went the whole road trip with one hit. And didn't get one the first night back (Monday). I'm not good with math, but 1 for 24, 1 for 25. ... I do know how it feels because those were my numbers quite often. Not too bad to take a break every now and then when you're 1 for 24.

Polanco actually is 1 for 27 in his last seven games, dropping his batting average from .269 to .244.

He pinch hit in the eighth inning Wednesday and struck out.

Picking up the slack

With Andrew McCutchen back in center field, Starling Marte has moved back to left field, and Travis Snider has returned to his normal spot in right field.

That's another reason Polanco is on the bench. Snider took a 10-game hitting streak into Wednesday's game, going 16 for 38 (.421) with five doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs during the stretch. He is batting .338 since the All-Star break.

“(Snider) found his rhythm and his rhyme at the plate a few months ago, and he found it through pinch hitting,” Hurdle said. “He's stubborn with his game plan, just taking the fast ball to the big part of the field. ... The changeup and the slider he's pulling. Everything else he's looking to shoot to the big part of the field, left field. It's been the best swing for the longest period of time that we've seen from him.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib. Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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