ATLANTA -- In a weeklong theme of post-trade debuts and stirring arrivals of potential building blocks of the future, newly acquired Charlie Morton starts against his former employers tonight in a Turner Field with which he is well acquainted.
It could be delicious theater, much like Andrew McCutchen's major league debut six days earlier in PNC Park's center field, with a twist of irony.
The leadoff batter Morton will likely face against the Atlanta team that trundled him off to the Pirates last Wednesday?
"We want to give him the opportunity to come up. We're looking forward to seeing him start. We're excited about it," Pirates manager John Russell said last night. He announced the move -- so closely guarded was this open secret that he maintained before the game that Jeff Karstens would retain the start -- after the club lost by one run to Atlanta for a second consecutive night, 4-3. "It's his time to come up and get him going. He's familiar with the surroundings, but he's facing his old team. I'm sure he's very excited to get here."
One slight problem with that plan: Morton went 4-8 with a 6.15 ERA as a part-time Atlanta starter last season, but he was far less effective at home in Turner Field, going 1-6 with a 7.02 ERA.
• Game: Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves, 7:10 p.m., Turner Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (season debut) vs. RHP Jair Jurrjens (5-3, 2.84).
• Key matchup: Freddy Sanchez is 4 for 8 with a triple, double, walk and three RBIs vs. Jurrjens, but the team as a whole has batted .169 in three meetings.
• Of note: Andrew McCutchen is one of three active players to have back-to-back games of three or more hits within his first five games in Major League Baseball. The others are Coco Crisp and Jay Bruce.
The decision to summon Morton was made earlier this week, after Karstens allowed six runs in a 9-1 loss at Houston in his most recent outing as the No. 5 starter. Karstens came out of the bullpen Monday night and unsuccessfully finished off a 15-inning, 7-6 loss to the Braves. Now he is being sent to the bullpen, an assignment he fills after 31 consecutive starts since his last previous relief appearance Sept. 25, 2007, as a New York Yankee.
To make room for Morton, the Pirates returned Tom Gorzelanny to Class AAA Indianapolis. He went 3-1 with a 5.19 ERA in his temp job as a reliever, necessitated by the elbow inflammation that continues to bother Tyler Yates. Gorzelanny pitched an inning in relief last night after starter Ross Ohlendorf plus relievers Sean Burnett (1-2) and Jesse Chavez could not hold onto a tenuous, one-run lead.
Gorzelanny maintained that he learned much in this bullpen apprenticeship back in the big leagues.
"I knew this was supposed to be temporary," Gorzelanny said. "It lasted a lot longer than everybody thought. I'm grateful for it. It was a positive move.
"There's nothing I can do about [Morton getting tonight's start] because of the situation I was in. I can't spend three, four weeks in the bullpen and try to go a whole game. Maybe it would be a different story if I was down in Indy starting all the time. But I know [this pen work] is going to help me in the long run."
Lately, Morton has been burning up that minor league level. Morton, 25, had a 2.26 ERA in 11 Class AAA starts with 62 strikeouts and 17 walks in 712/3 innings. He won his last five starts with Atlanta's Gwinnett club, then went seven scoreless innings -- four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts -- in his Indianapolis debut.
Braves players on Monday talked privately about how they heard Morton was coming back to Atlanta to start Wednesday against the team that traded him a week earlier with minor leaguers Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke for McLouth.
And here comes Morton.
"Good fastball," said Yates, who went through an Atlanta spring training with Morton. "Got good stuff. He's a good guy, quiet." Continued Nyjer Morgan, who faced Morton as recently as last summer with Indy: "Got nasty stuff. Throws hard. Has a heavy ball. I only saw him a few times and got a couple of knocks off him. But he was a power pitcher."
Tonight, the Pirates will find out if a juiced Morton can deliver an immediate jolt of electricity to a team with losses in four of its past five games.
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published June 10, 2009 4:00 AM