Bullpen sessions next step for Pirates' Charlie Morton

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- In three weeks, Charlie Morton plans to begin throwing bullpen sessions.

His current task: To ensure he has solid mechanics when he gets there.

Morton, who is rehabilitating from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in June, has progressed to throwing from 120 feet off flat ground. Morton now throws four days a week, the idea being to correct any mechanical imbalances that may have contributed to the ligament damage in the first place before he returns to the mound.

"It really gives you an opportunity to be coached at the same time," Morton said Wednesday at a Pirates voluntary minicamp at their spring training facility. "It gives you a chance to adjust mechanics and adjust mentality, not just throwing to get back to throwing the way you were."

Morton has not thrown anything other than fastballs. Adjusting mechanics on flat ground, he said, removes the various distractions related to throwing a pitch.

"There's no strike zone," Morton said. "There's no radar gun, there's no catcher, there's no one standing in the box. There's no defense behind you. It's the purest form of throwing the baseball."

Morton labors under the watchful eye of special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict, who instructs Morton to bring his hand higher, earlier in the delivery, so it doesn't drag behind the body. When the hand lags behind the body, it creates extra stress on the ulnar collateral ligament, the ligament that required surgery.

"Your arm is literally behind where it should be, and that's something that [Benedict] and I have been working on, is getting that hand up and out," Morton said.

Film study of throws where Morton's arm stays in sync with his body complements instant feedback from Benedict, who informs Morton when he was on time and when he was late.

"[Benedict] is literally standing out there watching me throw, telling you, 'That went a little late, that was good,' " Morton said. "We're capable of adjusting."

In addition to preventing further injury, Morton said, the flat-ground mechanical adjustments should keep Morton from reverting to the form he used the previous time he threw off a mound -- when he had a frayed ligament in his elbow.

"I've experienced other injuries that may not have sidelined me for any extended period of time, but the idea that you protect your injuries is totally valid," Morton said. "There's no way around it. You can't avoid it. You get hurt, you don't want it to get any worse so you alter the way you throw the ball."

Because of the time required for the transplant tendon to turn itself into a ligament, Morton cannot return much sooner than a year after the surgery, meaning June is a realistic estimate.

"It really honestly feels like what we're doing now, I'm using less arm, less energy, less effort, which is a good thing," Morton said.

Pirates trade for pitcher

The Pirates acquired right-hander Jeanmar Gomez from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league outfielder Quincy Latimore.

Gomez, 24, has appeared in the majors in three seasons with the Indians, making his debut in 2010. He pitched in 20 games in 2012, starting 17, and had a 5.96 ERA in 902/3 innings. He struck out 47 and walked 34.

In 11 starts for Class AAA Columbus in 2012, Gomez struck out 54 in 691/3 innings.

The Indians signed Gomez, a native of Venezuela, in 2005, when Pirates general manager Neal Huntington worked in the Indians front office.

Gomez could join Zach Stewart, Vin Mazzaro and Andrew Oliver as pitchers with an outside chance at competing for the rotation in spring training but who may be slated for Class AAA. Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson have the inside track on the final two spots in the rotation. Gomez was placed on the 40-man roster, which is full.

The trade came as the Pirates continue to speak with the agents for left-handed starter Francisco Liriano, who was close to agreeing to terms on a two-year, $12.75 million contract with the Pirates in late December but injured his right arm before the deal became official.

The Pirates originally drafted Latimore, 23, out of high school in the fourth round in 2007. He hit .252 with a .321 on-base percentage and 15 home runs for Class AA Altoona in 2012.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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