Charlie Morton's start Thursday resembled some outings from earlier in his career -- mostly weak contact, several baserunners, a few runs here, a few runs there.
For Morton, that represented progress. For the Pirates, it wasn't enough.
Morton and the Pirates ran into San Francisco Giants starter Matt Cain at his best in a 10-0 loss Thursday night at PNC Park. It was Morton's first appearance in the major leagues after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.
"I wish I had done better, but I think I can take quite a few positives from it," Morton said.
The Giants had seven hits in five innings against Morton (0-1), but only one, Buster Posey's double to the warning track, was hit hard. The Giants also took advantage of a walk and three hit batsmen to score four runs, two earned, off of Morton.
"There's room for improvement, but from being out a year, first time back on a major league mound, I think there's some things we can definitely work with," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Morton reached 96 mph in the first inning and sat between 91 and 93 the rest of the way. He had success with his curveball, particularly against left-handed batters. He struck out five and recorded six ground-ball outs compared to two flyouts.
After hitting 97 mph in rehabilation starts, Morton was not surprised at the velocity.
"I like looking up [at the scoreboard] and looking at the movement more so than the velocity if I do look up," he said.
Morton returned one day shy of the one-year anniversary of his 2012 surgery. In nine starts last season before the surgery, Morton had a 4.65 ERA in 501/3 innings. He previously pitched in the majors May 29, 2012.
Morton started his minor league rehabilitation assignment April 18, but shoulder tightness temporarily halted the process.
"I wasn't looking for this start to validate what I had gone through in rehab," Morton said. "I wasn't looking for this start to come back and say, 'I'm back.' Unfortunately, it's part of the process, a long process. We're talking about a year. That's a lot."
The first three Giants batters reached base, giving them an early lead. Morton walked leadoff man Gregor Blanco and hit Brandon Crawford. Posey's ground-ball single scored Blanco.
After that, Morton escaped. He got Hunter Pence to ground out and struck out Brandon Belt and Andres Torres.
"Warm-ups were OK," Morton said. "Once I got on the mound, things sped up a little bit.
"I really didn't know what to expect."
He allowed two ground-ball singles in the second. Nick Noonan reached on a forceout and took second on a groundout. Blanco singled up the middle to score Noonan and give the Giants a 2-0 lead.
Pence chopped an infield single in the third and stole second but was stranded there. Morton had four strikeouts in the first three innings -- Belt and Torres twice, all swinging at curveballs.
"The curveball was really good," Morton said. "I was just having trouble repeating it consistently. I hit two guys with it."
Morton hit Crawford again with one out in the fifth. Posey's double one-hopped over the wall in left-center field, forcing Crawford to stop at third.
Pence grounded to second. Neil Walker threw home, apparently catching Crawford in a rundown. The umpires, however, ruled that third baseman Pedro Alvarez interfered with Crawford and awarded the Giants a run.
Morton hit Belt to load the bases. Torres' sacrifice fly scored another run and the Giants led, 4-0. Arias appeared to have an RBI single, but the ball hit Pence between second and third and the inning was over.
Reliever Mike Zagurski allowed five runs, including a three-run homer by Pence, in the sixth.
Cain (5-3) pitched 62/3 scoreless innings and allowed only two hits.
Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Cain's perfect game, when he struck out 14 against the Houston Astros. The previous time he faced the Pirates, he had a perfect game going until pitcher James McDonald singled in the sixth as Cain settled for a complete-game shutout.
Thursday night, Cain faced the minimum through four innings. He walked Garrett Jones in the second, but a double play erased him.
Jones recorded the first hit against Cain, a single to right to start the fifth.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 14, 2013 4:15 AM