Ray Searage can commiserate with Charlie Morton. Years ago, before Morton had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and went through the ensuing recuperation, his pitching coach had the same procedure.
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"That was really tough," Searage said. "I hated the [physical trainer] I was working with. I wanted to do stuff with my arm but he did so much stuff with my body. Basically, that's what you've got to do."
About 10 months into his rehabilitation, Morton is in the process of reintroducing his secondary pitches after months of throwing nothing but fastballs. The incremental increase in stress on the rebuilt ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow slowly strengthens the ligament.
"Basically what you want to do is make sure the arm gets strong enough so that it can handle the breaking balls," Searage said. "So then you start introducing the breaking balls slowly, into his flat-ground [throwing] at first."
After throwing breaking pitches on flat ground, Morton is progressing to throwing them in bullpen sessions, then in simulated games and finally regular extended spring training games.
"We're just going to make sure Charlie comes through this in good shape," Searage said. "We'll take every measure to make sure it's done right."
Adding the off-speed pitches is the final step before Morton can enter a program designed to build up his pitch count and prepare him for a return to the majors. He is on track to return sometime in late May or June.
In recent months, Morton had to focus on his total-body strength and conditioning. Throwing progressed slowly, from catch to long toss to work off of a mound.
"The arm will get stronger when you're throwing and doing the exercises, obviously," Searage said. "But your body, if you don't take care of that, then this ain't going to get stronger."
Searage has kept in touch with Morton via text message and said he discussed how to handle his mindset before the club left spring training.
"He's focused," Searage said. "He knows what he has to do. There's going to be days when they're going to drag on. He prepared himself. He realizes he's going to have the good and the bad. He's coming through it."
How did Starling Marte end up on third base after leading off Tuesday night?
It wasn't after a triple, though it could have been with Marte's combination of power and speed. Marte singled, stole second easily and tagged on Andrew McCutchen's fly-out in foul territory down the right-field line.
Hurdle called it a "manufactured" triple.
"Hard out of the box, hard turns, defense, arm," Hurdle said. "Just a good package. But at the top of the lineup he gives us a spark."
Marte showed flashes of his ability last season but walked only eight times compared to 50 strikeouts. He had a .300 on-base percentage in 182 plate appearances. This season, he had hit safely to lead off the game in five consecutive games heading into the weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds and had a .353 on-base percentage.
"The one thing we want to be mindful of is, we want this kid to be aggressive in the strike zone," Hurdle said. "I'm not looking for him to try and become a Maury Wills. More of a Rickey Henderson-type leadoff hitter. There's some swing, there's going to be some barrel, there's going to be some slashing from time to time."
Wills led the league in stolen bases six times in his 14-year career and stole 104 in 1962, when he won the National League most valuable player award. He had a career .330 on-base percentage, but his career slugging percentage was only one point higher.