Karstens to rescue of Morton
Charlie Morton made his Pirates debut last night, pitching a scoreless first inning in Atlanta, then had to remove himself from the game because of a hamstring problem.
Atlanta catcher Brian McCann can't handle the throw from second base, allowing Craig Monroe to score on Adam LaRoche's single in the seventh inning.
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ATLANTA -- Manager John Russell liked what he saw from the Pirates' No. 5 starter last night.
Both of them.
The long-awaited Pirates debut of Charlie Morton, or, at least, the weeklong-awaited debut since he was acquired from Atlanta in the Nate McLouth deal, wound up being short: one inning, one hit, nine strikes among 13 pitches and one balky hamstring.
And the guy who substituted for him and propelled the Pirates to a 3-2 victory against Atlanta at Turner Field, ending a three-game losing streak and his personal two-game losing streak over the previous five days? That was none other than Jeff Karstens (3-4), whom Morton was summoned from Class AAA a night earlier to replace.
The present No. 5, Morton, strained his left hamstring while stretching in the clubhouse in the top of the first inning. He pitched the first, allowing a Yunel Escobar single while eliciting grounders from McLouth and Chipper Jones before an inning-ending popup by Brian McCann. And then he left.
- Game: Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves, 1:10 p.m., Turner Field.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (4-2, 3.94) vs. RHP Javier Vazquez (4-5, 3.54).
- Key matchup: Atlanta might try to make its lineup as right-handed as possible. Left-handed batters have a .130 average vs. Maholm, right-handed batters .290.
- Of note: The Pirates' .989 fielding percentage ranks second in the National League, fourth in Major League Baseball.
"It was pretty electric stuff," Russell said of Morton's brief appearance in the same Turner Field where he went 1-6 with a 7.02 ERA last year while amassing a 4-8 record as a Braves starter. "Wish we could have seen more. Hopefully, he'll get over this strain and continue to start."
Because, Russell said, despite Karstens' stellar effort in his third outing in the past six days, Morton remains the current No. 5 starter and Karstens the former No. 5 starter -- though he will remain in rotation contention.
Karstens, who threw 20 pitches in an afternoon warm-up much like his Tuesday warm-up, his Monday side session and the bullpen warm-up before his 15th-inning showing in a 7-6 loss to the Braves, joked that he got a hasty notification in the top of the second and an all-too-brief warm-up before taking the mound in the bottom of the second.
How many pitches did he throw?
"I don't know. But I know it was quick."
"The guy's got a rubber arm," Adam LaRoche said. "I mean, he threw a long bullpen before the game started. Had a long one a couple of days before. He's a grinder."
Karstens promptly went out last night and retired the first five Braves he faced and two over the minimum through his first four innings. He reached a two-ball count against three of those batters and a full count just once.
He got into a jam in the sixth, after Adam LaRoche and Jason Jaramillo gave him a 2-0 lead in the third. Escobar doubled, and McCann hit his second double off Karstens. He also worked him to that lone full count.
Karstens left after 42/3 innings. It was his longest relief stint since 2006 with the Yankees. He yielded the fewest runs in a long-term outing since he allowed the same amount (one) in his second start of the season.
"He saved us," Russell fairly gushed. "Threw the ball well. Kept it down. Again, a phenomenal job to do what he did to save the bullpen."
All Karstens knew in the end was: "Man, that was a lot of fastballs."
They worked, for he threw only 16 balls among 59 pitches. His control was as pinpoint as it had been all year, Russell noted, and perhaps since the 15-inning scoreless streak that followed his arrival from New York last summer.
"I think I was able to throw a lot more fastballs than usual," said Karstens, a loser in his most recent start Friday in Houston and his first relief appearance Monday in the 15th-inning game here. "I just wanted them to put the ball into play."
He would like to return to the rotation.
"I thought I'd been throwing well enough," Karstens continued. "More than anything, I wanted to throw well to get over the other night."
Karstens turned in the longest Pirates relief performance in more than two calendar years, when Shawn Chacon was still around. But it is back to the bullpen for him -- he admitted he maybe could work an inning today in the getaway-day afternoon final of the series, but no more -- and it's back to the No. 5 spot in the rotation for Morton.
"Hopefully, he gets better soon and gets back on track," Karstens said of Morton.
And Morton's reflection on his short night?
"Very disappointed. I was anxious coming back here to Atlanta, hopefully getting some quality innings in."
First Published June 11, 2009 12:00 am