Bob Smizik: Don't overlook Morton in Pirates' win

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It was widely acknowledged at the All-Star break that the Pirates‘‍ two biggest weaknesses were at first base and in the bullpen. The following is not to suggest those weaknesses have been resolved, but in two games since the break, the bullpen has pitched eight innings without allowing an earned run and starting first baseman Gaby Sanchez is 3-for-6.

In the Pirates’ 3-2, 11th-inning win over Colorado last night, four relievers pitched four scoreless innings, Sanchez had a double that drove in the first Pirates run, and Jordy Mercer’s double in the 11th brought home Neil Walker, who had three hits, with the winning run.

The win moved the Pirates, who tied the game in the eighth inning on Walker’s RBI single, to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Milwaukee, which lost to Washington.

With so much going on so late in the game, there might be a tendency to overlook what happened early. Which would be too bad because the pitching of Charlie Morton really was the story of this game. Morton continues his long journey from early bust, to reworked competency, to Tommy John surgery, and now to a key building block of the Pirates’ future.

He pitched seven innings last night and allowed two runs -- a homer by Carlos Gonzalez in the seventh -- and five hits while walking one and striking out three.

He gives the Pirates a strong start almost every time out and has conquered what had been his greatest weakness -- left-handed hitters. They once feasted on him. He now feasts on them. It’s a miraculous turnaround. From 2011-13, lefties hit .336 against him with an .884 OPS. Going into last night’s game, lefties are batting .221 with a .610 OPS.

His ERA of 3.28 is the lowest of his career. His WHIP of 1.17 is the lowest of his career. His K/9 of 7.33 is the highest of his career. His K/B of 2.44 is the highest of his career.

He leads all Pirates starters in ERA and WHIP and his 5-9 record is proof positive of the unimportance of win-loss records for pitchers.

• • • 

In order, the Pirates relievers were Ernesto Frieri, Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes. Frieri struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. Melancon disposed of the Rockies in order and used only five pitches while striking out one batter. Hughes got the win to raise his record to 5-2.  ... Sanchez figures to get the start today against Colorado lefty Tyler Matzek, but his performance has done little to upgrade first base where Ike Davis, 0-for-1 last night, gets most of the playing time.


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