Morris, Pirates could be parting ways
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The Matt Morris matter, one way or another, should come to a head today.
The Pirates will recall starter John Van Benschoten from Class AAA Indianapolis this morning and, thus, must make another move to clear roster space. And indications were very strong last night that, in some way, that will involve Morris.
Management met shortly after Morris' latest implosion, six runs over 1 2/3 innings that led to an 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park, and two options were believed to have been laid out:
1. Move Morris to the bullpen and replace him in the rotation with reliever Phil Dumatrait.
- Game: Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.22) vs. RHP Brett Myers (2-1, 4.78).
- Key matchup: Jason Bay tends to have his way with Myers, batting .500 -- 5 for 10 -- with a home run, two doubles and two walks.
- Of note: The Pirates are the only team in Major League Baseball with at least one double in every game, even though their total of 46 ranks 17th of the 30 teams.
2. Release Morris, even though it would mean eating the remainder of his $10,037,283 salary, as well as the $1 million buyout of his 2009 option, all of it guaranteed. That would be slightly more than $10 million.
Where Van Benschoten will fit is unclear, but this much is certain: Neither of the above options allows for Morris to remain in the rotation.
All manager John Russell would say afterward: "It's too early to say anything. We'll see where we are."
There is a third option, of course, but this one is in Morris' court: He could elect to retire at age 33, allowing the Pirates to keep all or some of that money -- depending on whether a buyout would be sought -- and exiting with the same class he has demonstrated throughout what remains an exemplary career in Major League Baseball.
That scenario should not be ruled out.
To be sure, Morris sounded like a man defeated in the moments after seeing his record go to 0-4, his ERA to 9.67, and his opponents' batting average to .390 with six home runs, including Ryan Howard's two-run blast last night ...
Asked if there were any positives he could take from it, Morris replied: "Not really. No. The decent pitches I threw were fouled off. The pitches I threw in the zone were hit hard. I might have to reevaluate again."
Asked about opening the game with 13 offspeed pitches, an apparent concession to his visibly diminishing arm speed: "I was just going to try to mix it up. I was thinking that, if I could keep them guessing, maybe the change in scenery might help. But it didn't."
Asked why, after plotting with pitching coach Jeff Andrews to go low with every pitch, he would throw an elevated 1-2 fastball to Howard for that home run: "That pitch was me throwing a four-seamer up and in, after I planned all week on going down. That just doesn't make sense. The velocity's just not there to get it by him."
Manager John Russell had no more flattering evaluations.
"Tough outing," he said. "We did kick a couple balls behind him, but his command's just not where it needs to be right now. I think he knows it. He left a couple balls up, and you'll get hit, especially against a team like Philadelphia."
After that offspeed stuff got Morris two quick outs in the first, Chase Utley singled, and Howard clubbed that fastball -- just 85 mph -- into the center-field landscaping for a 2-0 lead and his first career home run against the Pirates.
Next, Pat Burrell singled and scored when Xavier Nady failed to glove Geoff Jenkins' screamer to right for an error. Chris Coste was hit by a pitch, and Eric Bruntlett singled for another run.
Morris' mound opponent, Kyle Kendrick, grounded a double-play ball to shortstop Brian Bixler, but it skipped off his glove to make it 5-0.
Bixler would muff another grounder later, raising the Pirates' error total to 28, most in the majors. That includes 10 by shortstops not named Jack Wilson.
Morris' pitch count after that inning?
It ended up at 71, just to get five outs.
The errors can take part of the blame for Morris' line, as half his runs were unearned, but that looked to mean little. In the second, after another run on two hits and a walk, Russell lifted Morris, with the 24,791 in attendance standing to boo him loudly off the field.
Morris is a two-time All-Star with a 121-88 record, and he was the National League' comeback player of the year in 2001 after rebounding from elbow surgery to finish third in the Cy Young voting while with St. Louis. He also pitched for the Cardinals in the 2001 World Series.
But, since former general manager Dave Littlefield acquired him from the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Rajai Davis last July, he has won just three times in 16 starts.
Dumatrait relieved Morris and, as if he were auditioning for starting duty, pitched four mostly smooth innings with five strikeouts, his only two runs -- one unearned -- coming in the sixth.
"I thought Phil did a great job," Russell said.
The offense tried to claw out of a 6-0 hole for a second consecutive night, but again fell short.
Two highlights: Nady's hitting streak was extended to 14 with a fourth-inning double. And Nate McLouth snapped an 0-for-15 slide with an RBI single in the third and a solo home run, his fourth, above the Clemente Wall off Kendrick in the eighth.
First Published April 27, 2008 12:01 am