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Pirates starting pitcher Morton headed to disabled list

| Friday, March 30, 2012

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton will begin the regular season on the 15-day disabled list but is expected to be back by April 14.

"He's not quite ready to go," general manager Neal Huntington said Thursday. "While we're excited about where he is, he's made tremendous progress, our belief is he needs another start down here (in spring training) and one start in the minor leagues."

Morton had hip surgery in October, and management has taken a conservative approach to his rehab. On Wednesday, Morton worked five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays and allowed six runs on eight hits.

"The word was that I wasn't going to be needed anyway," Morton said. "So I didn't really expect to be in the rotation unless I was pitching really, really, really well. And (Wednesday) night, I didn't throw all that great. I don't fault anyone for the decision that I need a little bit extra time to get ready."

Morton will pitch a simulated game Wednesday at Pirate City, fly to Pittsburgh for Opening Day, then pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis on April 9 in Columbus, Ohio.

"This will give Charlie a chance to get to 100 pitches for the first time, which is where we'd like each of our guys to be," Huntington said. "He wouldn't get that opportunity if we ran him right out into a major league game."

If all goes well, Morton will make his regular-season debut April 14, which, due to off days, will be the first time the Pirates will need a fifth starter.

Last season, Morton went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 29 starts. He led the Pirates with 171.2 innings pitched and he was second on the team in wins.

Huntington said the Pirates might carry 11 pitchers instead of 12 until Morton gets back. That would enable an extra bench player, such as infielder Matt Hague, to break camp with the team.

"That's something we're talking about," Huntington said. "But (having) eight relievers would allow us to protect some relievers early, as our starters are getting built up and getting into the cold weather for the first time."

Twins rock McDonald

James McDonald lasted just 3.2 innings and allowed 10 runs on seven hits in an 11-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins. McDonald issued seven walks and also hit one.

"Just a bad day," McDonald said. "Luckily, it was a spring training game rather than have it happen in August, September or next week when it counts."

McDonald has one exhibition start to go before his season debut April 8 against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park.

The Pirates were out-hit, 15-9. Pedro Alvarez singled twice in four at-bats.

Cruz makes team

Friday, the Pirates will formally agree to put non-roster invitee Juan Cruz on the 25-man roster for Opening Day. However, they will not have to make a corresponding 40-man roster move until Tuesday, when they close out the preseason with an exhibition game against the Phillies in Philadelphia.

If Cruz was not added to the active roster by Friday's deadline, the Pirates would've had to either release him or give him an extra $100,000 and a June 15 opt-out date in order to assign him to Indianapolis.

A right-handed reliever, Cruz has a 2.25 ERA in seven outings this spring. In eight innings, he has allowed five hits and one walk and has six strikeouts.

Four players cut

Reliever Ryota Igarashi, catcher Eric Fryer and infielders Nick Evans and Jake Fox were reassigned to minor-league camp.

"I was shocked," Igarashi said through an interpreter. "But at the same time, I did everything I could every day. The results were not there, so I accept their decision."

Igarashi, who had an 8.68 ERA in nine outings, said he will consult with his agent before deciding whether to accept the demotion to Indianapolis.

Fryer will be the primary catcher at Indy for at least the first couple weeks of the season. Jose Morales is recovering from a strained oblique.

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