MILWAUKEE — Three months away didn’t change much for Charlie Morton.
Whatever the Pirates right-hander had going for him in 14 starts with Triple-A Indianapolis seemed to escape him on Sunday as the Pirates lost, 8-4, to the Brewers at Miller Park.
Morton (1-10) delivered one of his roughest performances of the season in the series finale, surrendering eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits, with one walk and two strikeouts over just 3 1/3 innings of work.
“[Morton] just didn’t execute quality pitches,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “I think he threw a few too many offspeed pitches and didn’t really get aggressive with his fastball. Just not enough quality pitches. When he throws that many offspeed pitches, then he loses the aggressiveness of really being able to pound the zone.”
After leading off the inning with a hit batter, Morton gave up a two-run homer to Ryan Braun in the fourth, which spelled the end of his outing.
Things didn’t go any smoother in the first three innings for Morton, either.
After retiring the first batter he faced, Morton allowed three singles and a walk in a four-batter span. Coupled with a throwing error charged to Morton himself, the Brewers put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first.
Following a four-batter second inning, the third inning featured four singles, a stolen base and a passed ball, all of which amounted to another three runs for the Brewers. All this came after a two-run homer in the first by Neil Walker, which gave Morton a lead to work with early on.
According to Morton, some early success by the Brewers when he threw his fastball led to him changing the way he approached hitters.
“Early on, they seemed to be on my four-seamer pretty good,” Morton said. “I was throwing my sinker, but I was falling behind in some counts. With my sinker, I was inducing less firm contact, but I got beat bad on a couple curveballs I left up in the zone.”
In two starts this season for Morton against the Brewers, the results have not been pretty. On April 20, he allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits and three walks in one inning of work, facing 12 batters and tossing 58 pitches before being removed in the second inning of the Pirates’ 8-1 loss.
For the season, Morton has given up 12 earned runs on 15 hits and four walks over 4 1/3 innings of work against the Brewers, good for an 0-2 record and a 24.94 ERA.
Overall this season, Morton drops to 1-10 with a 10.03 ERA, allowing 52 earned runs on 75 hits over 46 2/3 innings pitched. In 14 starts for Indianapolis between his late May demotion and Sunday’s loss, Morton was impressive, posting a 3.82 ERA as he allowed 34 earned runs on 83 hits over 80 innings of work. Morton also recorded 53 strikeouts against 30 walks.
While his manager said he would get another chance to start, Morton’s return did not exactly go as the 26-year-old right-hander would have liked.
“To come back and work at getting back, obviously the first start back you want to do better than I did today,” said Morton, who was coming off a six-inning outing for Indianapolis in which he allowed zero runs on four hits with four strikeouts.
Ryan Doumit added a solo homer in the fourth and Delwyn Young added another in the seventh, but that was all the offense the Pirates would muster for the game.
Brewers starter Dave Bush wasn’t sharp, but he tossed seven innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits, with two walks and four strikeouts. All the damage done by the Pirates against Bush came on Walker, Doumit and Young’s three home runs.
With the loss, the Pirates dropped their 13th consecutive road contest, which amounts to the club having been swept in each of its past four series on the road since taking two of three in Colorado on July 27-29.
It also marks the third time this season the Pirates have been swept by the Brewers, with the other two coming April 20-22 at PNC Park and July 9-11 at Miller Park. Since snapping a 22-game road losing streak to the Brewers on April 27, the Pirates have gone 4-9 against Milwaukee and 1-6 at Miller Park.
The consensus in the visitors’ clubhouse over the past three days has been that things never seem to come easy when the Pirates face the Brewers, regardless of the outcome.
“When I got here in ’06, I was told it had been the other way around, that we couldn’t really beat the Pirates at all,” Bush said. “I didn’t know any better, but I remember hearing guys talk about it. We won a few games that year, and guys seemed relieved by it, I guess.
“It’s turned around a little bit in the past few years. I know we had that really long winning streak against them broken up [22 consecutive home wins], and since then we’ve had some really good games. There have been some heated games, and some good games back and forth.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
MILWAUKEE — It may not have looked like it at the time, but Evan Meek and the Pirates were very lucky on Sunday.
Meek was struck in the right hand by a Ryan Braun line drive in the eighth inning on Sunday, which sent the All-Star reliever reeling to the ground. Fortunately, the X-rays did not reveal any fracture.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to react,” Meek said following the Pirates’ 8-4 loss to the Brewers. “[It’s] not broken. That was the big thing. When you get hit, you don’t know what’s going on because your hand is numb. But X-rays came back negative, so we’ll just ice it and hopefully the swelling goes down pretty soon and get back out there.”
While noticeably favoring his right arm and hand, Meek was helped to his feet and aided in walking off the field to the visitors’ clubhouse at Miller Park for X-rays, immediately following the injury.
Meek was the third Pirates pitcher to be hit significantly by a batted ball this season, joining Chris Jakubauskas and Ross Ohlendorf, both of whom were struck in the head. Ohlendorf, who was hit on July 29 against the Rockies, did not miss any time due to injury.
Jakubauskas, on the other hand, suffered a concussion and ended up on the disabled list. Only recently, on Aug. 18, did the Pirates activate Jakubauskas from the DL and outright him to Triple-A Indianapolis.
As the line drive came off the bat of Ryan Braun, Meek pulled his arms in toward his chest before being struck near his right wrist. It was another scary moment for the Pirates and Meek, who at first glance, appeared to have been hit in the chest.
Instead, the ball struck his hand near the pinky, leaving nothing more than a contusion and plenty of swelling. So does Meek consider himself lucky?
“Yeah I do feel lucky,” he said. “I’m glad it wasn’t at my face. I’m still kind of thinking back at what happened, but we had some instances earlier in the year with guys getting hit and it’s not fun. I’m just glad that my hand’s not broken.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Outfielder McCutchen out of Sunday’s lineup
MILWAUKEE — Through 129 games this season for the Pirates entering Sunday, center fielder Andrew McCutchen had played in 121 of them. When game No. 130 rolled around, McCutchen’s name was left, surprisingly, out of the lineup.
“It’s good I guess,” McCutchen said. “I don’t really have days off. It gives me time to just kind of chill, relax and get myself right. I’ll always be ready, though. You never know, it could be a close game and I could come in late. So I keep myself prepared and mentally ready to play.”
All but two of the eight previous games McCutchen had missed came in a mid-July stretch when he sat out six consecutive contests with a shoulder injury. After returning from that injury, McCutchen sat out another time just three games later.
Before that day off, McCutchen had not missed a game for the Pirates since the first week of May. With that in mind, the center fielder did not expect to sit out the series finale at Miller Park on Sunday.
“How can you expect it when you’re arguably the best player on the team?” remarked outfielder Lastings Milledge as he sat nearby at his locker.
“You don’t really expect a day off when you play every day,” McCutchen said. “I don’t mind playing every day. I’ve had my days off with me being injured, so it’s not like I’ve been playing the whole season. I guess they felt I needed one, so they gave me one.
Alvarez moving forward after costly error
MILWAUKEE — With two out and a runner on third in the bottom of the seventh on Saturday, reliever Chan Ho Park got Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy to ground to third.
With a hard hit grounder, the ball hopped off the glove of Pirates rookie Pedro Alvarez, caroming over his left shoulder and into shallow left field to shortstop Ronny Cedeno.
“The ball kicked up on me a little bit,” Alvarez said. “It took a tough hop and I can’t predict something like that.”
As center fielder Lorenzo Cain scored easily from third, the Brewers tied the game at seven runs apiece, coming back from four runs down when the Pirates led, 6-2, in the third inning.
Alvarez appeared a bit indecisive on whether to charge the ball or wait back on it. He chose the latter, and could not make the play.
“It’s still a sign of youth,” said manager John Russell. “It’s a big moment, you get a little tense and [he will] continue to get better.”
The error was Alvarez’s 10th of the season, which ranks as the ninth-most among National League third basemen. With a .942 fielding percentage, Alvarez now sits 14th among those in the NL who have started 60 or more games at the hot corner.
Even with the error leading to a crucial run for the Brewers, it’s not one that Alvarez plans to spend much time worrying about.
“Obviously you never want that to happen,” Alvarez said. “I can’t worry about it anymore. I tried to get myself in the best position possible to catch it and I just couldn’t come up with it.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
MILWAUKEE — One bad inning is all it takes to send you from a win to a loss. Within that inning, it’s often one hit or one defensive play that makes the difference.
It took two innings and two defensive miscues to complete the job on Saturday, but the seventh inning made all the difference for the second consecutive night at Miller Park as the Pirates lost, 8-7, to the Brewers.
On Friday, it was a six-run rally highlighted by a misplayed line drive to right field that turned into a game-winning two-run triple. In the second game of the series, a pair of errors by rookie infielders Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker allowed the Brewers’ tying and winning runs to score, respectively.
“We always know every time we come here it’s going to be a battle,” Walker said. “Four-run lead, three-run lead, whatever it may be, it’s never safe here when we play these guys.”
In a long game that featured 14 pitchers, 21 position players and lasted more than four hours, lefty reliever Wil Ledezma finally surrendered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th to rookie center fielder Lorenzo Cain, scoring Ryan Braun from second and sending the Brewers fans among a crowd of 37,782 home happy.
“That was awesome — my first Major League walk-off,” said Cain, who also scored the tying run in the seventh.
Without a fielding error by Walker at second base, the 11th inning may have turned out much differently. As Prince Fielder ripped a grounder toward the rookie second baseman, Walker misplayed it, allowing Braun to advance and putting Fielder aboard safely at first.
“It’s a play I’ve got to make. Plain and simple,” Walker said. “I’ll take the blame. We played our butts off today and a couple of mistakes just cost us the game.”
The other mistake for the Pirates came in that crucial seventh inning.
Entering the seventh inning, lefty Zach Duke was in line for his first career win at Miller Park and the Pirates led by three runs, sitting just three innings from their first road win since July 28 at Colorado.
But after reliever Sean Gallagher gave up a leadoff single to Braun, he was removed in favor of left-hander Brian Burres. As Burres hung a 1-2 slider on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Fielder didn’t miss it, sending the ball an estimated 455 feet to right-center field for his second home run of the game and his 20th career multi-homer game.
Four batters later, Chan Ho Park appeared to have gotten out of the inning, but a fielding error charged to Alvarez on a hard hit grounder to third allowed Cain to tie the game at 7.
“It’s a tough play, but again, it kind of shows our youth a little bit,” said Pirates manager John Russell. “We make those plays and it might be a different game, but the guys really battled. They kept after it.”
While he would have gotten the win had it not been for the seventh inning, Duke was not exactly sharp.
He allowed four runs on nine hits while walking one, recording one strikeout and surrendering a pair of solo home runs.
“It was definitely a battle from the first hitter on,” Duke said. “My location wasn’t very good and my stuff wasn’t all that great. Everything was giving me problems.”
Despite his struggles, Duke did outduel Brewers starter and fellow lefty Chris Capuano.
Starting in place of Manny Parra for Milwaukee, Capuano was roughed up for six runs on six hits in just three innings of work while walking three and giving up two home runs.
“I had flashes tonight where I thought I had great sequences to guys, and then I had flashes where I was having some problems with command,” Capuano said. “I have to do a better job than that. That’s obvious.”
Parra replaced Capuano in the fourth, and proceeded to put down nine of 10 batters faced through three innings of work. He gave up just one hit, a fourth-inning single to Walker, while striking out three batters.
Left fielder Jose Tabata highlighted the Pirates’ offensive outburst, as he homered in the first inning and finished 3-for-5, adding a double and a single. Catcher Chris Snyder also added his second home run of the series in the third, a three-run shot that put the Pirates up, 6-2, at the time.
Walker added a solo homer in the seventh — which appeared to be insurance for the Pirates — off reliever Mike McClendon. Seven runs marked the most scored by the Pirates since a 7-1 victory over the Marlins on Aug. 16.
The loss is the 12th straight on the road for the Pirates, and secures yet another road series loss for Pittsburgh. In 21 road series this season, including the current three-game set with the Brewers, the Pirates now have lost 16 series with just four series wins and one tie.
“It’s tough coming in here, but we battled with them tonight,” Duke said. “Hopefully we can get one tomorrow.”
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?
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.”
MILWAUKEE — Sometimes in baseball, one inning is all it takes to change a game. For the Pirates on Friday, that inning was the bottom of the seventh.
Entering the inning, they held a one-run lead over the Brewers and looked for starter James McDonald to deliver one final solid inning before handing it over to the bullpen. When the inning came to a close, the Pirates trailed by five runs — as they lost the series opener, 7-2, at Miller Park.
Within that seventh inning, the turning point came with two on and one out, as rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar drove a 1-1 fastball over the head of right fielder Lastings Milledge for a two-run, game-winning triple.
Off the bat, it looked like a routine line out to right field. As it reached Milledge, it was anything but.
“When I hit the ball, I thought, ‘He’s got it,'” Escobar said. “Then he turned around and lost the ball, and I ran.”
“I looked up at the last minute and the lights got in my face,” Milledge said. “That’s a play that I make every day of the week. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the play. It cost us big. I make that play in my back pocket every day of the week.”
Following Milledge’s misplay on the Escobar triple, the Brewers tacked on four more runs on a pair of singles and two doubles, sending 12 batters to the plate before the Pirates finally got out of the inning.
While an out on Escobar’s triple could have saved the game for the Pirates, things really got out of hand when starter James McDonald and reliever Chris Resop were unable to close out the inning over the next five batters.
“They’re one of the best hitting teams in all of baseball anyway. Just one play is all they need,” Milledge said. “We were still in the game, only one run down, and they just took it over the top. It’s what they do.”
Milwaukee’s six-run, six-hit rally in the seventh inning marred what had been a spectacular performance by McDonald.
Through five innings, the right-hander had allowed just one hit — a bunt single by Escobar — with zero walks and six strikeouts. In the sixth, McDonald made a big pitch to left fielder Ryan Braun to induce an inning-ending double play.
But in the seventh, Braun managed to put the exclamation point on the Brewers’ victory.
“I thought McDonald threw the ball very well,” said Pirates manager John Russell. “He just couldn’t get out of that inning. After that, he just couldn’t get back in the dugout. You can’t give up six runs in the seventh.”
McDonald finished with 6 1/3 innings pitched, surrendering six runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks. The outing was McDonald’s second-longest this season — but it was also his worst in terms of runs allowed.
Before the game, Russell talked about focusing on the preparation and process, while ignoring the result. When asked about his start afterward, McDonald seemed to be following that mentality.
“It’s not frustrating, things happen. We played hard. Things didn’t fall our way,” McDonald said. “I felt like I had good stuff today. Sometimes I’ve had great stuff and I’m out in the fourth inning. I still went deep in the game. Things didn’t fall our way, but we’ll get them next time.”
Through five innings, though, things were falling the Pirates’ way.
Milledge got things started in the second, leading off with a double and coming around to score two batters later on an RBI single by Ronny Cedeno. In the fifth, catcher Chris Snyder added another run with a one-out solo homer off Brewers starter Chris Narveson.
But while Narveson (10-7) was not as sharp as McDonald through the first five innings, he benefited from the Brewers’ big seventh inning, picking up his first win since Aug. 3 and matching his second-longest outing of the season — going seven strong while allowing just two runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts.
It looked through five innings like the Pirates would finally snap yet another double-digit road losing skid. Instead, the streak climbs to 11 straight losses away from PNC Park.
For Milledge, though, the way the team has played in the last week far outweighs the Pirates’ 11-game road losing streak.
“You can say what you want to say about 11 straight, it doesn’t matter, we’ve still got a chance to win the series,” he said. “We’ve been playing good baseball here the last 4-5 days — it just got away from us today. We’re going to come back tomorrow and get it done.”
Karstens not likely to miss another start
MILWAUKEE — The Pirates got some good news on Friday. It appears right-handed starter Jeff Karstens’ right arm fatigue is not likely to cost him another start.
After missing his last start on Wednesday, Karstens now looks to be on pace to make his scheduled start on Tuesday in Chicago. Karstens threw at Miller Park on Friday before the Pirates’ series opener with the Brewers.
LaRoche gets start against Brewers
MILWAUKEE — With the Brewers sending a left-handed starter to the mound on Friday against the Pirates, manager John Russell thought it would be a good time to give Pedro Alvarez the night off.
More importantly, though, Russell saw it as a good chance to get Andy LaRoche a start.
“Andy hasn’t played much,” Russell said. “We’ve been pinch-hitting him quite a bit — and I’d like to get him some at-bats so he feels a little more comfortable at the plate. We’ve been looking at it over the last four or five days moving into this week what would be a good day.
“With [Chris] Narveson pitching today, we thought it would be a good day to get Andy in there and get Pedro a day off.”
While Russell hopes the start will help LaRoche, he sees plenty of benefits in it for Alvarez as well.
“It’s not so much [that] Pedro needs the rest, it was more about getting Andy in the game,” Russell said. “[But] letting Pedro watch again, those young guys when they sit, they can learn a lot.”
This month, LaRoche has started just two games, once at first base and another time at third base. His last start came Aug. 10 at first base against the Padres in San Diego. Since then, he’s pinch-hit 10 times — going 1-for-10 with a single and two strikeouts.
As a pinch-hitter this season, LaRoche has gone 4-for-28 with two doubles and two RBIs along with six strikeouts and two walks. In 55 starts, LaRoche is batting .228 (45-for-197) with three homers, 12 RBIs, six doubles and 16 walks against 29 strikeouts.
“It’s tough for anybody when you’re used to playing a lot and you go to the bench — and you don’t get to play,” Russell said. “We’ve tried all year as much as we can to keep those guys in the game as much as we can and get them some starts here and there.
“It will help them when they pinch-hit. That’s a tough enough job without having any time. Giving them four at-bats every once in a while will help.”
McCutchen’s recent work impresses Russell
MILWAUKEE — Getting a spot start in place of Jeff Karstens on Wednesday, right-hander Daniel McCutchen impressed as he tossed six shutout innings in the Pirates’ 5-2 victory over the Cardinals at PNC Park.
His manager was equally impressed by McCutchen’s performance in relief leading up to the starting opportunity.
“I think he showed a lot more confidence out of the bullpen,” Russell said. “I thought he threw the ball pretty well. I think it kind of helped set up his start.”
McCutchen’s start was his first since July 31, also against the Cardinals. In that start, which was in St. Louis, McCutchen went 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits. McCutchen struck out just one batter while walking six as he took the loss.
In eight starts this season, McCutchen owns a 6.92 ERA — giving up 30 earned runs over 39 innings of work on his way to a 2-5 record with 20 walks and 20 strikeouts. As a reliever, McCutchen has an impressive 1.74 ERA — allowing just two runs on 11 hits over 10 1/3 innings of work in nine appearances.
“He was more aggressive. He was hitting his spots. I don’t think he was worried how deep he was going to go in the game,” Russell said. “I think he was just out there one hitter at a time, one inning at a time. I think that’s a good lesson that he learned from the bullpen — and if he does start again, it’s something he can draw onto.
“It is one pitch at a time. Execute this pitch, go to the next pitch.”