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Pirates beat 8/28

August 29, 2010

Morton poised for Sunday start

MILWAUKEE — Three months after he was sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis, right-hander Charlie Morton will start for the Pirates on Sunday against the Brewers.

In a move that had been expected since Ross Ohlendorf hit the disabled list earlier in the week, Morton will be recalled from Triple-A for Sunday’s start, while reliever Justin Thomas has been optioned back to Indianapolis to make room on the 25-man roster.

Morton made 14 starts for Indianapolis, posting a 4-4 mark with a 3.83 ERA. In 80 innings of work, Morton recorded 53 strikeouts against 30 walks.

Since giving up four runs in a July 27 start at Syracuse, the past four starts for Morton have been impressive. Morton has allowed just four earned runs on 17 hits in 24 innings over that stretch. He’s also struck out 17 batters while walking nine.

In his last outing against Louisville, Morton tossed six shutout innings, allowing just four hits while striking out four batters.

“I think he’s rebuilding and working on a lot of things down there to get himself mentally and physically ready. I think he’s made great strides,” said Pirates manager John Russell. “We wanted to get him back up here at some point and the opportunity arose for tomorrow. We’re anxious to see how he does.”

Before he lost his starting role in late May and was sent down to Indianapolis, Morton was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts. For his career, Morton is 10-26 with a 6.13 ERA as a starter, giving up 145 earned runs over 213 innings of work.

Morton’s best start to date in the big leagues was his last of 2009, as he tossed a four-hit shutout against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sept. 30.

After struggling through the first two months of the 2010 season, Russell hopes the time in the Minors will help Morton get back to the type of pitcher he showed he could be with that dazzling performance in Chicago.

“I think he’s learned a lot this year,” Russell said. “I think it’s important that it’s going to be a good building block for him moving forward. It’s part of the learning process. It’s part of the things guys need to do.”

If Morton pitches well Sunday at Miller Park, does Russell see the rotation staying as it is for a while, with the 26-year-old right-hander in it?

“Yeah, I don’t see why not,” Russell said. “I’m anxious to see him pitch again. He’s got tremendous stuff and he’s a guy that should be able to pitch at this level and be very effective.”

Switch-hitting Doumit getting more at-bats

MILWAUKEE — One look at his batting splits will quickly tell you that Ryan Doumit is a better left-handed hitter than he is right-handed. Even so, his manager thinks it’s important to give Doumit some starts in right field against left-handed pitching.

“I think it’s important just to stick him in there right-handed,” John Russell said. “Being a switch hitter, you need the at-bats right-handed against left-handed pitching.”

Since being moved primarily to right field this month with the acquisition of catcher Chris Snyder, Doumit has seen most of his starts come against right-handed starters. Conversely, right-handed hitting Lastings Milledge has typically been in against lefties.

While it’s tough enough to juggle Doumit, Milledge and Snyder as it is, Doumit’s ability to hit from both sides throws another wrinkle into Russell’s plans. Of course, Russell is not exactly a fan of a strict platoon to begin with, so that makes things easier.

If Doumit is swinging the bat well from both sides of the plate, Russell would have no problem starting him every day, regardless of if it were a left- or right-handed starter.

“I think if you look at it, any time you hear that, if you break it down and look at it, you rarely find that it’s just a straight platoon,” Russell said. “That’s why I’ve never been a big believer in it. What we try to do is put guys in a situation where we feel like we’ve got a chance to win and they’re going to have some success.”

Russell likes what he sees in McDonald

MILWAUKEE — Had it not been for some tough luck on what appeared to be a routine out in right field, Pirates starter James McDonald may have delivered one of the best starts of his young career on Friday night.

Instead, he and manager John Russell were forced to continue to focus on the preparation and the process, and not the result. One thing Russell particularly liked was McDonald’s efficiency through the first five innings.

In the first inning, McDonald needed 11 pitches to retire the Brewers in order. For the second inning, it took 12 pitches. The third inning, which featured a bunt single, took 16 pitches. McDonald recovered by tossing just 13 and 11 pitches while facing the minimum again in the fourth and fifth.

“I felt like when I had them two strikes and had them in the hole, I made a pitch and kind of made them induce contact,” McDonald said. “[I got them to] swing early in the count, and tried to keep the game going.”

Even when he started giving up runs, McDonald didn’t use many pitches. Facing five batters in the sixth, it took McDonald 16 pitches to escape with just one run allowed. Finally, in the seventh, when he recorded just one out through six batters, McDonald tossed 19 pitches.

All told, McDonald needed no more than those 19 pitches in any inning while totaling 98 on the night. Through five innings, though, McDonald needed just 63 tosses while facing only one over the minimum and striking out six batters.

“I really liked the way James was efficient in the zone,” Russell said. “He has a tendency in some of his starts of getting ahead and it takes him awhile to put them away. Last night he was doing a good job of getting the outs quickly.

“At times, he was dominant. It’s good to see and it’s good for him to continue to build off that.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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