Charlie Morton, seen here throwing in a game last season, continues his rehab from elbow surgery.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ALTOONA -- Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton got back on the mound Thursday in Altoona for his first rehab start since May 3rd when he felt tightness in his shoulder and had to be removed from a Class AAA game at Lehigh Valley.
Morton, who is on a 30-day rehab program as he continues to recover from elbow ligament replacement surgery -- commonly called "Tommy John" surgery -- last June, threw four innings for the Curve against the Trenton Thunder and allowed two hits -- both home runs -- two runs, walked one and struck out one and 40 of his 61 pitches were for strikes.
He said he felt very good but he won't know where he is at physically until Saturday when he is scheduled to throw again.
"I threw two really, really bad changeups that got hit," Morton said of the two home runs he gave up. "Other than that everything was pretty good. My location was average but the stuff was good, the two mistakes were bad. I would say the indicator [of whether his shoulder survive] would be, maybe when I throw my side[sideline throwing] or maybe when I throw long toss, the day of my side.
"That's when I would be able to tell a little bit better [physically]"
Morton, other than the two home runs, did have great command and pitched well as he got eight ground ball outs (which he said indicates his sinker was working well), three flyouts and strikeout in his four innings.
He said that he mixed his pitches more than he would normally because he is still trying to figure out what he can throw for strikes and how his shoulder handles all of his pitches.
"Sinker, four-seam [fastball] and cutter [his three best pitches Thursday], but mainly the four seamer and the sinker and I got the ground balls, which is what I was trying to do," Morton said. "In those situations [his two home run pitches], I'm not sure how many changeups I'd even really be throwing but I am just trying to get a feel for where I am with my offspeed because at some point you have to break out the off speed and challenge guys with that.
"You have to have secondary pitches."
Morton said he had no discomfort after throwing, which is welcome news for him because of the way his last rehab start ended.
Morton was pitching for the Pirates Class AAA team, Indianapolis, on May 3rd when he said he felt his shoulder tighten up before he went out for the third inning and he was immediately shut down.
That was his fourth rehab start -- he had made one for Bradenton, two for Altoona and was hoping to make a couple in Indianapolis before joining the Pirates again -- and to that point he had felt pretty good.
"I know that guys coming back from Tommy John [surgery], there are sometimes bumps in the road, the shoulder tightness being one of those things." Morton said. "But I am 11 months post-op right now and that's pretty good, this was definitely encouraging.
"The discomfort, soreness or stiffness [the last time out] was a little bit scary just because it has been a long time, it has been a long rehab, it is a long process. To come this far and have something happen, that would be very discouraging, so it was a scary occurrence but today I felt good, so I am excited about that."
Morton, who last appeared for the Pirates on May 29, 2012 against Cincinnati, said he will return to Pittsburgh and throw at PNC Park a few days before joining Indianapolis and likely pitching next Tuesday when the Indians play at Pawtucket.
He said there is no timetable for his next step beyond that but he will continue to see an increase in the number of innings and pitches he can throw.
Thursday he was scheduled to throw four innings or 65 pitches and ended up throwing 61.
The Curve won the game 6-2. Morton did not factor into the decision.