Morton, newcomer Byrd lead Pirates past Brewers
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
Very quietly, Charlie Morton is turning into arguably the Pirates' steadiest pitcher.
Morton does not have Francisco Liriano's sizzle, A.J. Burnett's gritty appeal, Jeff Locke's All-Star credentials or Gerrit Cole's raw power. But, as the season moves into its decisive final stretch, Morton is producing practically every time he takes the ball.
Morton muzzled the Milwaukee Brewers for 62⁄3 innings as the Pirates churned out a 7-1 victory Wednesday to snap a three-game losing streak.
Marlon Byrd's three-run homer into the center-field bushes in the seventh inning capped the win. Byrd made his Pirates debut after being acquired Tuesday via a trade with the Mets.
“A very nice welcoming for him,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Morton (6-3) gave up one unearned run on five hits, walked three and struck out two. The right-hander has won three straight decisions and five of six since the All-Star break.
Morton has worked at least six innings in nine of his past 10 starts. Since returning from Tommy John surgery June 13, he has allowed two or fewer earned runs in nine of 14 outings.
“I feel like I'm doing my job,” Morton said. “I really just want to feel like I'm adding something to the team. I didn't want this year to be about me returning from Tommy John. This is a team that's winning. It needs somebody to step in and to the job.”
It's not hard to pinpoint the secrets of Morton's success. He's keeping the ball down in the zone, which leads to ground-ball outs, and is getting ahead in the count.
Morton went into the game with a 65.7 ground ball percentage, the highest rate of his career. He's thrown first-pitch strikes in 58.3 percent of at-bats, his second-best tally.
“You see confidence, you see really good rhythm and tempo,” Hurdle said. “The complete arsenal of pitches is in play. He's been really consistent. He's really working well, good and efficient.”
With left-hander Tom Gorzelanny (3-6) starting for the Brewers, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle dropped Jose Tabata to the No. 8 spot and batted Josh Harrison leadoff. Harrison led off the first inning with a single.
Jordy Mercer walked on five pitches. Andrew McCutchen — who came into the game with a .373 average against lefties, second-best in the National League — hit an RBI single to left.
Byrd got loud applause from the crowd of 20,634 as he went to the plate for his first at-bat. Byrd took a strike, then hit a smash to Gorzelanny, who snared it waist-high on reflex and doubled McCutchen off first base.
Byrd's next at-bat lasted a lot longer.
After McCutchen singled to start the fourth, Byrd faced 13 pitches to force a full count. Gorzelanny dragged things out by making six throws to first base to keep McCutchen close.
Byrd struck out swinging on the 14th pitch — and got a standing ovation as he went back to the dugout.
“They were like two kids in the backyard playing wiffle ball,” Hurdle said.
Maybe Byrd wore down Gorzelanny. McCutchen stole second and took third on Pedro Alvarez's groundout to shallow right field.
Gaby Sanchez snaked a single just out of second baseman Scooter Gennett's reach to score McCutchen and make it, 2-0.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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