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In latest loss, Charlie Morton sees improvement

| Monday, Sept. 6, 2010

Charlie Morton threw more fastballs yesterday afternoon than he did in his previous start. He fired plenty of first-pitch strikes, too.

That's proof, Morton said, he's a different pitcher than he was at the start of the season.

Yet the results were the same. Morton failed to make it out of the fourth inning, as the Washington Nationals ripped the Pirates, 8-1, at PNC Park.

"It was a lot different today, although I'd like to see better results," Morton said. "I did a better job of pitching. My tempo was better. Location was better. It was a lot different than it was the last time."

Morton (1-11) worked 3 2/3 innings, allowing six runs and eight hits. The right-hander walked two and struck out one to lower his ERA to 9.66.

"For the most part, I thought he was better," manager John Russell said. "Still not where we'd like to get him, but it's a step in the right direction."

On Aug. 29, Morton made his first start back with the Pirates after spending three months in the minors. He gave up eight runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings of a loss at Milwaukee. Against the Brewers, Morton often shook off catcher Ryan Doumit and later admitted being too timid with his fastball.

Yesterday, working with catcher Chris Snyder, Morton threw 58 fastballs out of 76 pitches. He also worked ahead in the count often, throwing first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 21 batters he faced.

"My goal was to get ahead early," Morton said. "The way to do that is to use the fastball and also to have the mentality of using fastballs."

It's not like the Nationals hit him hard. Four of their six runs against Morton were unearned, the result of Morton's throwing error in the first and a fielding miscue by first baseman Garrett Jones in the fourth.

"Early on in the year, it was a lot more frustrating than it is now," Morton said. "Even when they had the bases loaded (in the fourth), I didn't really feel overwhelmed."

The Nationals went up, 1-0, in the first inning, then sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five times in the fourth.

Adam Dunn began the rally with a solo homer. Jones' error allowed a run to score and set up run-scoring singles by Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman.

"It was hit pretty well and came up on him," Russell said. "I've seen Garrett make those plays a lot. Unfortunately, today he didn't."

Nationals starter Jason Marquis (2-7) came into the game with an 8.13 ERA, but he held the Pirates to one run -- on Pedro Alvarez's 11th homer -- and six hits in six innings.

The Pirates got a scare in the first when outfielder Jose Tabata was hit by a pitch on the left hand. He was examined by a trainer and remained in the game.

"I'm fine," Tabata said. "Just grazed me."

Neil Walker doubled in the third inning, extending his hitting streak to 12 games to match the team's longest streak of the season.

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Pirates vs. Braves 09/06

Pirates vs. Braves 09/06

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves Monday September 6, 2010 at PNC Park.

Additional Information:

Scouting report

Pirates vs. Braves

1:35 p.m., PNC Park

TV/radio: FSN/WPGB-FM (104.7), WJPA-AM (1450), WCNS-AM (1480), XM Channel 185

Pitchers: RHP Tommy Hanson (9-10, 3.60) will start for Atlanta. LHP Brian Burres (2-3, 6.31) will start for the Pirates.

Additional Information:

Around the Pirates

• Right-hander Jeff Karstens has been shut down with what manager John Russell described as a 'cranky' shoulder. 'The doctors don't see anything structurally wrong with it,' Russell said. 'It's been a long year for him, and it's getting a little cranky. We don't know for sure yet if he'll be able to make another start.'

• To replace Karstens today against Atlanta, lefty Brian Burres (2-3, 6.31) will make his eighth start of the season.

• Righty Joe Martinez was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Martinez went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in four games with the San Francisco Giants before being traded to the Pirates on July 31. Although the Pirates plan to use Martinez as a starter in the long term, GM Neal Huntington said he'll work out of the bullpen.

• Right-hander Brad Lincoln, who's been bothered by a sore neck at Indianapolis, made a so-so start Sept. 1 for Indy. Huntington did not indicate whether Lincoln will take Karstens' rotation spot. 'It depends upon where Brad is and how he feels, what kind of command and stuff he has, 'Huntington said. 'Does he come up and go into the rotation, does he come up and go into the bullpen, or does he even come up at all?'

• With injuries to Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Clement, the Pirates on Tuesday will call up a player or two more than originally planned. But it does not seem that outfielders Brandon Moss -- who's leading Indy in practically every offensive category -- will be among them. 'There's really not many at-bats to be had,' Huntington said. 'Emotionally, you'd love to bring (Moss) to the big leagues. But, intellectually, you take a step back and ask, how does he fit short- and long-term?' Moss is not on the 40-man roster, is out of options, and could become a minor league free agent after this season.

• The Pirates have no special plans for Ohlendorf this offseason. 'Let him heal, let him get healthy,' Huntington said. 'Just a typical offseason throwing program. In a perfect world, he would've built up to 200 innings this year. But I don't envision us asking him to go to winter ball to pick up innings.'

• High-A Bradenton clinched the South Division of the Florida State League. Bradenton will face Charlotte in the first round of the playoffs, a best-of-three series that will begin tomorrow night at McKechnie Field.

• Right-hander Craig Hansen, continuing his comeback from a rare nerve injury in his shoulder, was promoted to Double-A Altoona.

• Double-A Altoona manager Matt Walbeck was named Eastern League manager of the year. It's the second time the league has tabbed Walbeck for the honor.

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