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Charlie Morton reinventing himself

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Monday, May 30, 2011
 

CHICAGO -- With nine starts under his belt, Charlie Morton's revamped delivery and reborn sinker will no longer catch teams by surprise.

Word gets around after a pitcher makes significant changes for the better, and Morton is no exception. Every hitter now can study plenty of video of the "new and improved" Pirates right-hander.

"Consistency is going to be his biggest challenge," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll see where the season takes him. There'll be more challenges along the way."

Morton will have to adapt and at times tweak his approach the rest of the season. He already has made one alteration, junking his circle-changeup for a split-fingered change. But don't expect him to made huge changes just to trick hitters.

"I've already done a lot of changing in a short period of time," Morton said. "There's got to be a point where it's like, 'All right, let's just get good at what I'm doing.' "

Midway through spring training, pitching coach Ray Searage suggested Morton drop his arm slot to a low three-quarter style. The move at first confused some hitters, as the ball came at them from different angles than before.

Morton also dusted off his sinker, a pitch he had been urged to put aside during the past couple of seasons. Using the two-seamed fastball has turned him into a different pitcher and has helped Morton check right-handed batters to a .172 average.

However, problems remain. Lefties are batting .341 against him. His ratio of walks per nine innings (4.9) also is troubling.

"I still have a lot more to learn," Morton said. "For example, my control and command. Right now, I'm just trying to work down in the zone with my pitches. There are guys out there who are throwing all their pitches to both sides of the plate in almost any count. I'm just trying to hone in on throwing strikes with all my pitches just in general."

Morton's next two scheduled starts -- today against the New York Mets and Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies -- could be especially challenging. Each of those teams can put five left-handed bats in its lineup.

"If lefties are hitting me better than righties, that means I have to make an adjustment," Morton said. "It doesn't mean I'm going to reinvent myself."

One such adjustment was the arrival of Morton's split-changeup four starts ago.

When Morton lowered his arm angle, his circle-change became less effective because it moved more laterally than vertically. Using the split-fingered grip, Morton puts less strain on his elbow and is able to get better movement.

Morton now can rely on his changeup to get an early strike and also as a put-away pitch. Catcher Chris Snyder rarely has called for Morton's circle-change, but he often asks for the split-change.

"It's got a lot more dive towards the end of it," Snyder said. "The complement of it with his two-seamer makes it a very, very tough pitch to hit. Guys see the rotation coming out of his hand and think it's going to be the two-seamer. But the velocity is down, and it has a little more drop at the end (compared to the sinker)."

Additional Information:

Here's the pitch

Below is the frequency of pitches thrown this season by right-hander Charlie Morton:

Pitch type -- Pct.

*Fastballs -- 81.0

Slider -- 1.9

Curveball -- 9.7

Changeup -- 7.3

*Fastballs include four-seamer and two-seamer (sinker)

Source: Fangraphs.com

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