Francisco Liriano made what could be his final rehabilitation start Sunday as he prepares to join the Pirates for the first time this weekend.
Liriano started for Class AAA Indianapolis and threw 98 pitches in five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. He gave up one home run, walked one and struck out six.
Liriano is on track to start Saturday against the Mets in New York, which because of a scheduled day off today is the next time the Pirates need a fifth starter. A broken right humerus (upper arm) sustained in the winter kept him from participating fully in spring training.
"You're looking to get the guy built up," general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday before Liriano's start. "It's how you condition those guys to take those workloads."
Liriano will take Jonathan Sanchez's spot in the Pirates rotation. He is on the 40-man roster, but the team will have to make a corresponding move this weekend to add him to the active roster. The Pirates hoped Liriano could surpass 90 pitches, which would indicate his readiness to start.
"Eighty pitches at the major league level is very different from 100 pitches at [Class AAA], and that's why we want these guys stretched out," Huntington said.
The Pirates medical staff diagnosed Charlie Morton with tightness in the rear of his right shoulder, manager Clint Hurdle said.
He will throw on flat ground for a few days, then travel with the team to New York and attempt to throw a bullpen session later in the week.
Morton is in the final stages of rehabilitation after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in June. He left his most recent rehabilitation start when he couldn't get his arm loose before an inning.
"You take it one day at a time and you deal with what you deal with," Hurdle said. "It's more of just the next challenge in the rehab. I think your perspective is critical when you look at this and how you come back."
The Pirates can halt Morton's rehabilitation assignment and restart the clock with a fresh 30 days if Morton stays out for at least seven days, Huntington said, but he didn't anticipate needing to do so. Morton probably will need two more rehabilitation starts, Huntington said.
The Pirates will have Jeff Karstens prepare to return to the team as a starter, Huntington said, but will decide during his rehabilitation whether or not they will use him in that role.
"We'll make a decision at some point along in the process whether he'll just come back in the bullpen, but we do want to get him stretched out," Huntington said. "Three or four outings down the road is when we'll make that determination. How's he feeling, how's the stuff playing, what's our situation and how do we best fold Jeff back into the equation."
Karstens, slowed by shoulder soreness, will travel to Bradenton, Fla. today. He is scheduled to start Wednesday in extended spring training and May 13 for Class A Bradenton.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 6, 2013 4:00 AM