Pirates beat Reds, break losing streak
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws during Wednesday's game against the Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Share with others:
CINCINNATI -- For a change, so much swung with one swing of Pedro Alvarez's bat.
And, again, so much swung with those 106 swings of Charlie Morton's right arm.
Where it all goes from here, who knows?
But for one night, when Alvarez drilled a pitch into the seats and Morton had another in what is turning into routinely masterful pitching performances, it all came together for a 5-0 victory against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park that snapped the Pirates' six-game losing skid.
Game: Pirates vs. Reds, 12:35 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP James McDonald (2-3, 6.20 ERA) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (2-0, 0.00 ERA).
Key matchup: McDonald vs. the bottom of the order. In his previous start in Milwaukee, the No. 8 hitter, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, hit a home run off McDonald while No. 9 batter Yovani Gallardo, the pitcher, had two hits, an RBI and scored twice.
Of note: In his two starts, no batter in the second or fifth spot has had a hit off Cueto, greatly advancing his chances at winning -- and keeping his ERA down.
To be sure, there was a dazzling, five-hit, complete game from Morton (5-1), who continues to reinvent himself.
It was his second complete game this season, the other also here in a 6-1 win April 15.
"We were going after the guys similarly as we were doing before," said Morton. "I think I did a good job of keeping the ball down."
A good job of keeping it down?
Talk about your understatements.
He continued to embrace this whole "Ground Chuck" label as he rolled 14 groundball outs to go along with five strikeouts.
"He's pitched well here, he's very, very comfortable on the mound and pitching to a tough lineup," manager Clint Hurdle said of Morton, who, in about three months, has gone from a man fighting for a spot in the rotation to pretty much the staff's ace.
"It's been outstanding, his two starts here. ... He was in command, the couple times they had men on, he was able to answer. It was good stuff."
It was much better than "good stuff."
The complete game lowered Morton's ERA to 2.62 and tied his career high for victories in a season in just eight starts.
Consider this: In 50 starts before this season, he had 11 wins.
"As a starter, that's what you want to do," Morton said of working a complete game. "That's the most rewarding thing in my eyes that a starter can do. Go out there and throw a complete game, so I feel like I did my job."
The most rewarding thing a power hitter can do is hammer a ball into the seats.
That's where Alvarez comes in.
What was not expected as these Pirates pulled into Cincinnati was what happened in the fourth inning, when Alvarez drove a Bronson Arroyo pitch over the right-field wall (414 feet from home plate) for a three-run homer. It was Alvarez's first RBI in 16 games and his third extra-base hit since April 23.
It was a much-needed boost for Alvarez, whose batting average dipped below .200 this past weekend in Milwaukee. Most of all, it was only the second homer this season for Alvarez, viewed as the Pirate organization's top power bat. The other came in Miami nearly a month ago.
"Straight changeup," Alvarez said of Arroyo's mistake. "I'm just really not trying to do too much. Good things happen when you keep it simple."
An Andrew McCutchen two-run homer in the seventh provided some cushion, but it was the Alvarez blast that did so much and has, at least, the chance to do so much.
"I'm not concerned about hitting the ball out of the ballpark, that comes within itself," Alvarez said.
"I'm just trying to put some good swings on it, and the rest will take care of itself."
Perhaps the person Alvarez can emulate most as he struggles is Morton.
For it was Morton, nearly a year ago in this ballpark, who left the mound after getting through just two innings; he gave up five earned runs and two home runs.
His confidence level could not have been lower, and his record was 1-9.
He was demoted the following day, spending two months getting his affairs -- both with his arm and his head -- in order.
As a result, there is no one who understands better what Alvarez is going through than Morton.
"Through his struggles, he's not really letting on that anything bad is happening," Morton said of Alvarez.
"I think that's huge for recovering from a slump or what have you. What I did last year, it just piled on and piled on. I don't see him doing that.
"It's really good to see him [hit the home run] because he's a key piece in our lineup."
First Published May 19, 2011 12:00 am