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Bad inning sinks Morton, Pirates

| Thursday, April 21, 2011

MIAMI — The kind of inning Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton had been dreading and dodging all season finally caught up to him Wednesday in a 6-0 loss against the Florida Marlins.

There were five hits, all of them coming with two outs. A tough play wasn't turned, leading to two runs. An easy play was muffed for an error, which let another run score. The Marlins scored four runs, but it felt like 400.

The runaway second inning was Morton's worst of the season. And its pivotal moment was a forehead-smacking, four-pitch walk to the opposing pitcher.

"They just hit my sinker," Morton said. "It wasn't sinking. Instead of forcing the issue and throwing sinkers, maybe I should've mixed it up a little bit."

Morton (2-1) had an easy first inning, but his one-out walk to Omar Infante was an ominous sign. Over his previous three starts, Morton had issued 12 walks and gotten just six strikeouts.

That 0.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio was radically different than what Morton had put up his first three seasons in the majors — 1.17 in 2008, 1.55 in '09 and 2.27 last year.

A poor ratio usually is a glaring red flag. In Morton's case, some of it is due to his revamped delivery. He switched to a lower arm slot midway through spring training and now relies almost exclusively on sinkers.

"He's basically a completely different pitcher," manager Clint Hurdle said before the game. "So, the number of walks that come along with that, I think, is more symptomatic than problematic."

It was a problem Wednesday night, though.

In the second inning, Morton gave up two-out singles to John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio. With a chance to escape unscathed, Morton instead walked pitcher Ricky Nolasco on four pitches, all sinkers.

That opened the door for the Marlins.

Chris Coghlan legged out an infield single. Second baseman Neil Walker snagged the slow bouncer and double-clutched, uncertain who was going to cover the bag. By the time Walker threw to Lyle Overbay, it was too late.

"It was a mayhem-type play," Walker said. "It's a shame because it was not hard-hit. Just some miscommunication. I should've just thrown the ball and assumed someone was going to catch it."

Buck scored easily from third. Bonifacio, taking advantage of the Pirates' confusion, never hesitated and scored from second.

Infante lined an 0-2 sinker into center field for a single. Jose Tabata, who started in place of absent Andrew McCutchen, booted the ball, allowing Nolasco to score.

Hanley Ramirez ripped an 0-2 sinker into right to drive in Coghlan and make the score 4-0.

That was plenty for Nolasco (2-0), who helped extend the Pirates' scoreless streak to 22 innings. The shutout was preserved in the seventh when Pedro Alvarez was thrown out trying to score from first base on Chris Snyder's double.

The previous time the Pirates were blanked in consecutive games was May 11-12, 2010, against Cincinnati.

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