Pirates' Morton 'relaxed' after first victory
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws in Wednesday's game at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Charlie Morton lays down a bunt in the second inning.
The Pirates' Andy LaRoche slides into second base safely as Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot applies the tag in the third inning.
The Pirates' Garrett Jones gets into second base safely as he's tagged by Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot in the third inning.
The Pirates' Garrett Jones hits in a run in the first inning.
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Think back to all the numbing numbers of April: the century-old records obliterated in the most-lopsided single loss and the worst weeklong streak of losses by the 124-year-old franchise.
Now consider this, after Charlie Morton's rather impressive, 4-2 victory Wednesday night ended one of the two ugliest season openings by an 0-5 starter in nearly a baseball century, the club renowned for its ignominious record-smashing April today stands three games under .500.
It stands to regain starter Ross Ohlendorf either as early as Monday or as late as the weekend to follow after his four shutout innings of a rehab assignment with Class AA Altoona.
It stands, with Ohlendorf returning from back trouble and Morton seemingly rounding into his widely expected sharpness, a mite taller and straighter.
Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Brian Burres (1-1, 6.00) vs. RHP Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45).
Key matchup: Will Burres pitch effectively as he did in the combined shutout a week ago in Los Angeles? Or will he pitch like he did in a rout April 12 in San Francisco?
Of note: Andy LaRoche is batting .391 -- 18 for 46 -- in his past 11 games, with two home runs and six RBIs.
"We just got to stay positive," said a flu-ridden Ryan Church, who, despite feeling dehydrated and poorly, struck a game-turning home run for a second consecutive night -- his only homers this season. "Things are going to happen. Baseball is a crazy game. If you're going to lose big, you might as well do it early in the season."
But an aggregate 141-30 when they lose?
And 63-37 when they win, with half of their 12 victories by one run?
One more thing to remember: Thanks to Morton, Church and the gang, these wildly fluctuating Pirates are pretty consistent when they scratch out four runs, minimum -- they are 10-1.
"These guys have been unbelievable. They've been through a lot early on," Morton (1-5) said after his longest outing (one batter into the seventh) and fewest hits (five) and least earned runs (two) after a half-dozen wobbly starts.
"We came back here [after a 3-7 road trip], kind of hit the rest button a little bit. We know that we can win ballgames. It's just going out there, being relaxed and playing aggressive."
Ironic, then, that the very same approach helped Morton to pitch better.
He took the PNC Park mound early Wednesday night with only one pitcher in the 87 years of ERA-keeping history to start a season with an 0-5 record in five starts and own a worse one than his 12.57: Jeff Weaver of 2007 Seattle, with a 15.35 ERA.
He exited to applause from much of the 11,053 in the ballyard.
"I'm relaxed. And I'm excited. Pretty satisfying," he said afterward. "It's a foundation to move forward."
Morton has ditched his sinker -- "Great sinker tonight, dude," D.J. Carrasco teased from a nearby stall -- and taken up the four-seamer as a steady diet.
Perhaps most important, he is throwing with conviction, his word.
"It's pretty simple. In a certain sense, I'm learning a new mentality when I'm throwing. It's helping," Morton said. He threw 23 of his first 27 pitches for strikes. He had 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fifth and sixth. He was touched for four singles and two runs in the fourth, but that was it for a guy who gave up eight, six, five, five and three earned runs in his previous starts.
"And I don't think my location was that good," Morton said. "It think it was just being aggressive in the zone."
"It was easy to play behind him," said first baseman Steve Pearce, who made a couple of nice stretches and digs in his inaugural start since being recalled Tuesday from Class AAA Indianapolis. "He was working fast and throwing strikes."
"You saw something the other day, in his last time out," Church said of Morton's six-inning start in a 6-2 loss at Los Angeles last weekend. "It's been so hard for him to get off the schneid. He went out there and was so aggressive."
Concluded Garrett Jones: "He looked like the Charlie we know."
After Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan shut down the Cubs to follow Morton, Octavio Dotel earned his fifth save and second in consecutive nights. It was the first time since June 2007 that he earned saves on back-to-back nights.
Today, the Pirates try for their first sweep of the Cubs since August 2006.
Those constitute more digestible numbers for this club.
First Published May 6, 2010 12:00 am