COMMENTARY | The best thing about this year's version of the Pittsburgh Pirates is the clutch performances coming from players who otherwise weren't expected to be major contributors to this team.
Names like Josh Harrison and Jeanmar Gomez come to mind as role players who've very much answered the call when it's their turn. But perhaps the best example of a player rising above expectations is that of the man fans like to call "Ground Chuck" due to his ability to induce ground balls.
Let's be honest. Who saw this coming from Charlie Morton? The man has been much maligned since his 2009 debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a time when then-manager John Russell rambled on in a monotonous tone about Charlie's "electric stuff" despite an earned run average higher than Mount Everest. Morton became just another sideshow associated with a team that lost 105 games in 2010, an easy punching bag considering his 2-12 record and 7.57 earned run average that season.
Two major surgeries and four years later, Morton might just be the most reliable pitcher right now for a team fighting every day for a division title and playoff berth. The numbers don't lie: Chuck has a 2.68 earned run average in August to go along with a 3-1 record. He's been the stopper on more than one occasion, including a game against Milwaukee Aug. 29 in which he halted a three-game losing streak. That game marked the fifth straight start for Morton in which he's pitched at least six innings while giving up two or fewer runs.
What a difference several months makes. It wasn't long ago that Morton was marooned in Double-A Altoona, trying to work his way back to the big leagues as Jeff Locke cruised his way into the All-Star game. Now it's Morton who's mowing down opponents while Locke finds himself down in Double-A to rest for a start or two. And what great timing for Morton, considering his stellar ERA at least does a little to offset Locke's putrid 7.94 earned run average in August.
This is a guy who's endured both a major hip surgery and Tommy John, injuries that sidelined him for the better part of two seasons. But perhaps that was a blessing in disguise for a man who many thought would never crack the majors again. Morton didn't make his first start until June 13 this year as part of his rehab in coming back from the Tommy John surgery. His arm is certainly fresher than anyone else in the rotation, with the exception of rookie call-up Gerrit Cole.
That means Chuck could do big things for this team in the playoffs. Don't forget, most of these guys will be at the tail end of a grueling, six-month season. They'll be tired, both mentally and physically. Chuck should be in midseason form. It's just another example of what makes the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates so special, a team full of players who have a lot to prove to the rest of Major League Baseball.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Charlie Morton
- Ground Chuck