COMMENTARY | More than a year after going under the knife for Tommy John surgery, Pittsburgh Pirates' righty Charlie Morton might reclaim his roster spot in the big leagues after pitching some mediocre baseball in the minors.
But the questions remains as to just where Morton will land when he arrives in Pittsburgh sometime in the near future. A rotation spot just opened up with the addition of pitcher Jeanmar Gomez to the disabled list, leaving either Morton or injured starter James McDonald to fill the void.
We've all seen what McDonald had to offer earlier this year, and the result at times wasn't pretty. Neither was Morton's stint in the minors, where he started eight games for three different teams and managed to give up four home runs in only 34 innings pitched. To put that in perspective, the rightly only gave up six home runs during an entire season in the big leagues when he pitched 171 innings for the Pirates in 2011.
Keeping the ball in the park hasn't been Morton's only problem in the minors. He's walked 15 batters so far, with nine of those walks coming in his last three games compared to only eight strikeouts. Command issues have always bitten Morton. It's hard not to be wary about his trend of walking minor league batters consistently. It's also hard to get excited about Morton's potential, given his past troubles and concerns when facing Major League hitters.
There are few Pittsburgh Pirates past or present that can draw the ire of so many fans as quickly as Charlie Morton. Often a punching bag in past seasons for an irate fan base, Morton has shown signs of brilliance only to turn around and give up eight earned runs in three innings pitched in his next start.
He's the same pitcher who finished the 2010 season with a 7.57 earned run average in 17 games started, leading many to wonder how in the world he managed to start that many game without being permanently banished to the minor leagues. That was, of course, a time when John Russell still managed the Buccos.
While that historically awful season is more than two years removed from Morton's rearview mirror, the pitcher hasn't exactly had smooth sailing since. He rebounded with a very nice 2011 season, posting a 3.83 earned run average in 29 games started for the Pirates. He was serviceable in 2012, pitching to a 4.65 ERA in nine starts. Then came the surgery that left his season in shambles and his future in doubt.
It's not like a Tommy John procedure spells the end of the road for major leaguers. Quite the opposite, actually, as most can go on to successful careers. The injury isn't the issue, but rather how much time Morton has been absent from the big leagues. He hasn't seen Major League action since May 2012, and the time he's spent pitching his way back hasn't exactly been encouraging.
Maybe the front office and manager Clint Hurdle will give Morton a chance right out of the gate to earn a rotation spot. Maybe he'll be banished to the bullpen in a long relief role, the same role filled by Gomez before being promoted to the starting rotation. Or maybe McDonald and Morton will both find themselves coming out of the pen if the team decides to bring up top prospect Gerrit Cole.
Regardless of whether or not Morton gets the nod, there are reinforcements waiting in the wings to take his place if he falters. Morton probably isn't the best fit for the rotation right now, but at least management has other pieces of the puzzle to try to fit into place if he fails.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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