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Morton, quick start propel Pirates past Reds

AP - Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws against the Reds in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws against the Reds in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - The Pirates' Starling Marte slides safely into third base with a triple as Reds third baseman Todd Frazier applies the tag late during the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte slides safely into third base with a triple as Reds third baseman Todd Frazier applies the tag late during the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez hits a two-run single off Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez hits a two-run single off Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - The Pirates' Russell Martin steals second base as Reds shortstop Zack Cozart is late with the tag in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Russell Martin steals second base as Reds shortstop Zack Cozart is late with the tag in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - Reds shortstop Zack Cozart reacts as the Pirates' Russell Martin is called safe at second with a steal in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Reds shortstop Zack Cozart reacts as the Pirates' Russell Martin is called safe at second with a steal in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - The Pirates' Russell Martin gets a hit off Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos to drive in a run in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Russell Martin gets a hit off Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos to drive in a run in the first inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Starling Marte rounds second base as he stretches a hit into a leadoff triple in the first inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Marte went on to score the first run of the game.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte rounds second base as he stretches a hit into a leadoff triple in the first inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Marte went on to score the first run of the game.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Starling Marte leaps out of the way of a low pitch in the second inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte leaps out of the way of a low pitch in the second inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
AP - Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco tags out the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez after Mesoraco dropped the third strike in the sixth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco tags out the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez after Mesoraco dropped the third strike in the sixth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - Pirates outfielders Starling Marte (6), Travis Snider (23) and Andrew McCutchen celebrate after they defeated the Reds, 4-0, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates outfielders Starling Marte (6), Travis Snider (23) and Andrew McCutchen celebrate after they defeated the Reds, 4-0, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
AP - The Reds' Brandon Phillips is safe at first as the throw from Pirates catcher Russell Martin gets by first baseman Gaby Sanchez in the ninth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati. Phillips had struck out and the third strike got away from Martin. The Pirates won, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Reds' Brandon Phillips is safe at first as the throw from Pirates catcher Russell Martin gets by first baseman Gaby Sanchez in the ninth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati. Phillips had struck out and the third strike got away from Martin. The Pirates won, 4-0.
AP - Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen catches a fly ball hit by the Reds' Donald Lutz in the eighth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati. The Pirates won, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen catches a fly ball hit by the Reds' Donald Lutz in the eighth inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati. The Pirates won, 4-0.
AP - Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after they defeated the Reds, 4-0, on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after they defeated the Reds, 4-0, on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Cincinnati.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Starling Marte beats the throw to the Reds' Brandon Phillips for a stolen base at second in the seventh inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte beats the throw to the Reds' Brandon Phillips for a stolen base at second in the seventh inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Travis Snider slides in under the tag from the Reds' Zack Cozart in the eighth inning for a stolen base at second on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Travis Snider slides in under the tag from the Reds' Zack Cozart in the eighth inning for a stolen base at second on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - Pirates reliever Tony Watson pitches against the Reds in the sixth inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates reliever Tony Watson pitches against the Reds in the sixth inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Pirates blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Starling Marte hits an RBI single in the seventh inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte hits an RBI single in the seventh inning against the Reds on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Jordy Mercer crosses home plate in the seventh inning for the Pirates' fourth run on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Jordy Mercer crosses home plate in the seventh inning for the Pirates' fourth run on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Neil Walker takes the throw at second base to force out the Reds' Shin-Soo Choo to start a double play in the first inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Neil Walker takes the throw at second base to force out the Reds' Shin-Soo Choo to start a double play in the first inning on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Jordy Mercer catches an infield fly ball hit by the Reds' Devin Mesoraco in the seventh inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Jordy Mercer catches an infield fly ball hit by the Reds' Devin Mesoraco in the seventh inning Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh blanked Cincinnati, 4-0.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 10:33 p.m.
 

CINCINNATI — The Pirates could have asked for more pitches from starting pitcher Charlie Morton on Tuesday, but they couldn't ask much else of the right-hander, who entered Tuesday 368 days removed from Tommy John surgery.

In a hitters' park, facing a tough Reds lineup, and knowing the starting staff is depleted without four of its five Opening Day starters, Morton allowed three hits over 5 13 innings to lead the Pirates to a series-evening 4-0 win.

The Pirates moved to within a half game of the Reds for second place in the NL Central.

Morton pounded the strike zone with two- and four-seam fastballs, throwing only 10 off-speed pitches, all curveballs, among his 61 offerings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of 20 batters and generated eight groundball outs, critical in the cramped Great American Ball Park.

“In his second time back in the big leagues to go through five innings, we were way good with that,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “There's no blemish.”

One of the few offerings Morton missed badly with was his first pitch of the game, a 93 mph fastball that hit Shin-Shoo Choo in the calf, almost certainly retaliation for Reds pitchers knocking down Neil Walker and hitting Andrew McCutchen on Monday.

Morton denied hitting Choo intentionally.

Said Hurdle: “He just missed.”

The Reds did not hit a Pirates' batter. So are the bean-ball issues behind the two clubs?

“You throw out a term ‘bean-ball,' I don't go there,” Hurdle said. “It's competitive baseball. When two teams are focused on winning and are not going to blink … you push the envelope a lot of areas, not just pitching but in breaking up double plays, a lot of areas.”

Control is often thought to be the last element to return for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, but Morton has walked just one batter over 10 13 innings in his two starts since returning from the ulnar ligament (elbow) reconstruction surgery. He has hit five batters, including Choo and Xavier Paul on Tuesday.

Perhaps most important is that Morton (1-1) appeared strong and healthy.

The right-hander's fastball ran between 91-96 mph, after averaging 93 mph in his first start against the Giants on Thursday. Against Joey Votto in the first, Morton threw a 96 mph fastball, a 94 mph fastball and a 95 mph fastball to the Reds' star. Votto flied out to center. Reports of Morton's increased velocity during his rehab outings appear to not be an exaggeration. Morton's fastball averaged 89.9 mph prior to injury last season and 91.4 mph in 2011.

“He will not be the first guy I have seen come back from the surgery and throw harder,” Hurdle said. “It's a phenomenon to me. ... I don't know how it works, but it does. I guess that new piece they put in there is fresh. The rpms are ramped up.”

Said Morton: “They'll tell you it's rest and strengthening. You are in there a lot doing a lot of strength work. It doesn't surprise me that I'm throwing harder.”

Morton could relax early as the Pirates scored three runs in the first against right-hander Mat Latos (6-1). Starling Marte began the game with a triple and scored on a Russell Martin infield hit. Martin and Garrett Jones, who walked, scored on Pedro Alvarez's two-run single to left.

Latos set down 13 of the next 14 Pirates but was lifted after five innings and 88 pitches for a pinch-hitter. The Reds struck out 16 Pirates, a season high for Hurdle's club. Perhaps all the Pirates could have asked for is more pitches from Morton.

Hurdle pulled Morton after Zack Cozart reached on a third-strike wild pitch with one out and Votto on deck.

Tony Watson relieved Morton in the sixth. He allowed an opposite-field double to Votto, placing runners on second and third with one out, but he struck out Brandon Phillips on three pitches and induced Jay Bruce into a weak groundout to end the Reds' last, best threat.

“If you'll look at Watson's numbers against Votto and Bruce,” Hurdle said, “I want Watson on Votto and I want Watson on Bruce.”

Mark Melancon pitched a perfect eighth, and Jason Grilli shut out the Reds in a non-save situation in the ninth.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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