Charlie Morton’s return is a welcomed sight for the Pirates


Charlie Morton returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation Monday night and he didn’t disappoint. In seven innings of work, Morton gave up just two runs on eight hits and earned a win in his first start of the 2015 season. More importantly, Morton didn’t walk or hit a batter, and 18 of the 21 outs he got on the night were via the groundout.

That, Pirate fans, is the type of solid performance that earned him a three-year, $21 million extension back in December of 2013. He also added three strikeouts and didn’t get an out via the fly ball in last night’s victory, which isn’t too shabby. It’s that type of performance that led Morton to a 3.26 ERA in 2013 and a 3.72 ERA in 2014. Yes, he was only a half-win player in those two seasons, but you can’t expect much more than that from a back of the rotation starter that is to be expected from him this season. In 2015, he should be expected to pitch like the fourth starter behind Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett. Monday night, he proved he can fill those shoes admirably.

Morton didn’t pitch like the pitcher who was placed on the 15-day disabled list at the beginning of this season and who was coming off of a horrible spring training in which he had an 8.47 ERA and led the team in walks with ten. He didn’t pitch like the pitcher who gave up at least four runs in four of his final six starts in 2014 before being placed on the disabled list towards the end of August and who eventually required hip surgery, ending his 2014 campaign. It seems like a trend has emerged throughout Morton’s career. He can’t pitch hurt, and he is often hurt; this isn’t a recipe for sustained success. This is one of the reasons that makes Morton frustrating to Pirates’ fans.

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Coupled with the fact that he’s led the National League in hit batsmen over the past two seasons, Morton is painted in a bad light when, in fact, he hasn’t been a bad pitcher since 2010 (he had a 4.65 ERA in 2012, but he only made nine starts that year). Morton knows what he’s good at, and he does it well. He’s not a high strikeout pitcher, but he induces groundouts, limits fly balls, and keeps the ball low in the zone. Since he began emulating the delivery of Roy Halladay, and since he began buying into ray Searage and Jim Benedict’s advice, Morton has become an effective middle-to-back of the rotation pitcher when he’s healthy.

Of course, that is, when he’s healthy. He’s never made 30 starts in a season and has only made 20 or more starts in three out of the seven seasons he’s been in the big leagues. If he stays on the mound, however, Morton should and will be a welcomed addition to a Pirate staff that has been yearning for improvement at the back-end. Vance Worley has a 4.17 ERA so far this season with a 1.54 WHIP and has failed to last at least six innings in any of his last three starts. This earned him a bump to the bullpen. Jeff Locke may have kept a spot in the rotation for no other reason than he’s not Worley, as he owns a 5.28 ERA on the season but has lasted at least six innings in three out of his last four starts. Worley hasn’t been able to come close to replicating the success he had last season, and Locke remains destined for inconsistency.

Charlie Morton will be better than these two. If he comes close to the success he’s had the last two seasons, he will give the Pittsburgh Pirates’ a formidable top four in their starting rotation. Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, Casey Sadler, and Clayton Richard, just to name a few, can all be depth options for the fifth starter position over the course of the season. Thus, if this rotation stays healthy for the majority of the season (we’re looking at you, Charlie), it will be very good. Hopefully the Morton we saw on Monday night is just the start of a successful 2015 for Ground Chuck.

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