HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton keeps up with baseball news well enough to know he was just part of a trade that is highly unpopular in Pittsburgh, the one that sent Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for Morton and two other prospects.
And Morton, a 6-foot-4 right-handed starter now with Class AAA Indianapolis, also seems to grasp that his promotion -- when it comes -- will be accompanied by no small amount of pressure.
"To be traded for somebody of that caliber, yeah, there's pressure, there are expectations," Morton said yesterday by phone from Indianapolis. "Every time I take the mound, that's going to be on my mind. I don't want to disappoint anybody. All I can do is prepare myself to pitch, do the best I can do and, hopefully, with the faith the Pirates have shown in me, do something with the opportunity."
Morton certainly has pitched well enough at his current level: He is 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 17 walks in 11 Class AAA starts. That includes a fine debut for Indianapolis Thursday night in which he pitched seven scoreless innings but with a no-decision.
The report on that debut was that he pounded the zone early in counts and mixed all four pitches -- a mid-90s fastball, curve, changeup, slider -- to keep batters off balance.
Morton, 25, mostly was disappointing in the Atlanta system, with a 4.53 career ERA in the minors through 2008, and erratic control. But that began to change, as so often happens with young pitchers, in a hurry at the mid-point of last season.
"Just watching other guys, I knew I had the stuff, the way my ball moves, but it took a while for me to believe in it," Morton said. "We did some work on video, worked on location, tinkered with delivery, anything to stop falling behind and walking guys."
And then ...
"Something clicked. I started pitching with my fastball more, found the location I needed. And the numbers came."
Apart from being part of the McLouth trade, Morton professed to being pleased with it, mostly because Atlanta just promoted elite prospect Tommy Hanson -- who will make his Braves debut tomorrow -- and he felt blocked.
"The fifth spot was the only shot I had there, and I just wanted an opportunity. If that meant being with another organization, so be it. I'm happy to be with the Pirates. I know what a good, young staff they have, and I'd love to be part of it."
Third baseman Andy LaRoche was held out of the lineup last night because of the bruised right knee after being hit by a pitch Thursday in Pittsburgh, but he could be back tonight.
The bruise is just above the kneecap, and it has affected a muscle.
• Shortstop Jack Wilson returned after missing a game due to stomach flu, but only after he was cleared to play through an infected right shin, the result of a slide earlier in the week.
• Gorkys Hernandez, another of the prospects in the McLouth trade, made his debut with Class AA Altoona last night and played center field. Top prospect Jose Tabata, rehabilitating from a strained right hamstring in Bradenton, Fla., had been playing that position but will be mostly on the corners for the Curve when he returns, director of player development Kyle Stark said.
• Indianapolis third baseman Neil Walker has a dislocated pinky finger and will miss a week or two.
• The Pirates released outfielder James Boone, their third-round draft pick in 2005, from the Altoona roster. He was batting .179 and had been slowed by a slew of injuries as a professional.