For Pittsburgh Pirates starter Charlie Morton the last year and a half has been an uphill battle, the surgery, the rehab and the return.
Morton has had his share of struggles since returning to the lineup for Pittsburgh in June. He has had success with his sinker and is throwing a harder fastball than before his injury, but control has been an issue for the right-hander.
He is also having more success against lefties this season. Left- handed batters are batting .276 with a .833 OPS opposed to batting .327 with a .914 OPS last season.
On Tuesday night, Morton looked the best he had looked since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Morton went seven strong innings allowing only two earned runs on six hits while striking out five. He had issued no walks and hit no batters.
His outing was reminiscent of the Morton from the 2011 season. He showed the ability to be a ground-ball machine as only one of the 21 outs he recorded came in the air. The Marlins had very few hard-hit balls off Morton, who retired the final 12 hitters he faced.
Morton, also known as Ground Chuck, needs to continue getting ground balls and throwing strikes. If he can do those two things, he will be successful.
If hitters start getting the ball in the air, Morton tends to give up home runs. That has not been the issue this season. Instead walks and hit batsman have caused him trouble. He is second in the league in hitting batters with 10. He trails only Atlanta’s Julio Teheran, who has hit 11 batters.
For the Pirates, Morton’s outing meant getting the only struggling pitcher on the staff in line with the rest of the rotation. Morton had been 2-2 with a 4.99 ERA in his last five starts, on a staff that leads the major leagues with a 3.06 ERA.
“The last thing to come back is control and that’s just the reality of the situation,” Morton said. “That’s what I’m dealing with. I feel like my stuff’s good, I feel like my stuff’s gotten better and now it’s just really figuring out how to pitch again. I didn’t pitch for a year. There are a lot of things I’m relearning.”
This is why the Pirates have stuck with him. Many fans, talk radio callers and social media participants have been calling for Morton’s move to the bullpen or release from the team, but the Pirates have confidence in him.
Good outings from Morton will be crucial for Pittsburgh down the stretch. The starting rotation is solid with Wandy Rodriguez on the mend, but if Morton finds his groove he can help get the Pirates into the playoffs.
So far, Morton has been the weakest link in the rotation. His control issues have gotten him into trouble to0 many times. Also, in later innings, Morton tends to start giving up runs. If these problems disappear he could give the Pirates solid outings and help rest an overused bullpen.
Pitching almost always wins championships, and with five solid starters that could be the piece that helps the Pirates win their first World Series since 1979.