A new, improved Charlie Morton?
It sure looked that way Monday night in St. Louis, when the Pirates' most exasperating starter turned in six sharp innings -- one run, three hits -- in a 4-3 muzzling of the Cardinals. Morton threw his sinker in an unfair velocity range of 94-96 mph and pounded it low in the zone all night, drawing 13 groundball outs.
"He's a completely different pitcher than he was last year," closer Joel Hanrahan said. "With the stuff he's got and the way he pitched in spring training, this really shouldn't be a surprise. He was breaking bats all night."
Second baseman Neil Walker added, ""He's got really good stuff, used all his pitches. He gave us a really good outing."
It might seem like a distant memory to those who have watched Morton all spring and then Monday night, but he was 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA last year, such a mess that the Pirates had him spend much of the summer in the minors not only to improve his pitching but also to clear his head.
While with Class AAA Indianapolis, Morton sought advice on a sinker grip from Mike Crotta, owner of the system's best sinker. Morton had been forbidden by the coaching staff to throw his sinker last season, mostly because it was nothing special. But Crotta's grip, plus a drop to a three-quarters delivery advised by new pitching coach Ray Searage, combined to bring Morton his currently dynamic sinker.
"It was really just a matter of putting it all together, the grip and the delivery," Morton said.
Morton already had the lively arm, with new teammate Matt Diaz comparing him this spring to Atlanta's superb youngster, Tommy Hanson. But having a steady, reliable pitch has brought the one ingredient that has been missing in the majors: confidence.
"I feel good," Morton said. "This is fun."
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