MILWAUKEE -- Charlie Morton wants to change the context of his starts. He does not want to measure his performance against the backdrop of his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He wants to judge himself in the closest thing to a vacuum as possible.
"I'd like to base where I am off of what I did last start," Morton said.
If Morton keeps pitching the way he has, his previous start will keep the bar high. Morton performed well again Monday afternoon in a 5-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The win gave the Pirates 80 in a season for the first time since 1992.
Their next win will guarantee a .500 or above finish for the first time since that season.
The Pirates have won four of their past six games after losing three in a row.
Morton improved to 7-3 after his sixth consecutive good start. He allowed two runs, one earned, and seven hits in seven innings.
He walked two and struck out six.
"Guys have to respect his velocity, guys have to respect his sink," said Neil Walker, who hit a three-run homer. "When he's getting them with two strikes, he's mixing in that breaking ball and that split. He's pretty tough when he's ahead in the count."
Pirates at Brewers, 8:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
RHP Gerrit Cole (6-7, 3.80) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (10-9, 4.39).
- Key matchup:
The Pirates vs. a healthy Gallardo, who has a 0.93 ERA in three starts since coming off the DL.
- Hidden stat:
Gallardo's 11 career wins against the Pirates are second only to his 13 against the Astros.
Morton worked masterfully with his curveball once he found it later in the game. He struck out the side in the sixth on 10 pitches, using the curveball as the final pitch of each at-bat.
In the seventh, after an error gave the Brewers a run and a man on third, Morton used the curveball to strike out Jonathan Lucroy and end the inning.
"Today was probably the one day he didn't have [the curveball] as a go-to," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It showed up later."
In Morton's past six starts, he has allowed eight earned runs in 411/3 innings for a 1.74 ERA.
He has allowed two or fewer runs in each.
"He went out there and pitched his behind off," Pedro Alvarez said. "Got guys to make weak contact, and, when we needed a ground ball, he got that ground ball. He's been pretty darn good all year."
Hurdle and Morton noted that Morton's split-change has worked well in recent outings. Morton stopped throwing the pitch when he first returned to the majors in June, he said, but brought it back to provide another off-speed offering if he can't command his curveball that day.
"I feel like my sinker is good enough to get through the lineup a couple times, but then, you know, guys are going to be all over it if you keep throwing one pitch," Morton said.
Tom Gorzelanny allowed a single to Morton, the only batter he faced in the seventh, before shoulder tightness forced him from the game. Jose Tabata got his third single before Walker hit one an estimated 423 feet into the second deck in right. Walker's 10th homer of the season put the Pirates ahead, 5-1.
"I knew the guy threw a lot of fastballs and he threw hard, just wanted to get the foot down and get a barrel on something," Walker said.
Tabata went 3 for 4 with two RBIs, driving in Clint Barmes each time.
Alvarez squashed a possible Brewers scoring chance in the third.
Norichika Aoki singled to right, then took second when Marlon Byrd bobbled the ball. A groundout sent Aoki to third, and the infielders moved in. Lucroy grounded to third, and Alvarez threw home, catching Aoki in a rundown. After retiring Aoki, Alvarez wheeled and threw to second in time to nab Lucroy, who attempted to advance, and end the inning. Alvarez has an arm strong enough to make the play, and it took a perfect strike to do it.
"You never want a guy in scoring position," Alvarez said. "We were just fortunate that we were able to tag Aoki quick enough to be able to get a play at second."
The St. Louis Cardinals lost to Cincinnati, enabling the Pirates to regain sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
In the next few days, the Pirates can break their 20-year streak of losing seasons and create a new context for their performance.breaking - pirates
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 2, 2013 9:15 PM