KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The changes Charlie Morton made to his delivery this spring have not yet produced great results.
Morton was torched for six runs in 4 1⁄3 innings Sunday in a 14-2 loss to the Houston Astros. The right-hander yielded nine hits, including two solo homers and a pair of run-scoring triples.
“I felt like I was in the zone, but not putting the ball in the right spot,” Morton said. “And they put a lot of good swings on the ball.”
Morton spent the offseason recovering from hip surgery. In camp, he tweaked his mechanics to shorten his arm motion.
Morton said he’s still feeling his way through the new throwing motion and is making adjustments. But he’s too far down the path to go back entirely to throwing the way he used to.
“Where I’m at right now is I’ve got to start focusing on competing — executing pitches and getting guys out — instead of mechanical things,” Morton said. “I can’t just be in the zone. I’ve got to be in a spot in the zone and making good pitches.”
It was Morton’s third Grapefruit League outing. He also tossed four innings in a minor league game March 17.
“It’s been a challenge for Charlie so far this spring,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “The repeating of the mechanics, the consistency and command of the stuff has been a challenge. We’ve still got some time to go and there are some positive signs. The breaking ball was very good today. We’ll keep working.”
If Morton needs more fine-tuning at the end of spring training, management could opt to keep him in extended spring a bit longer before his first regular-season start. However, manager Clint Hurdle said that option has not yet been discussed.
“I think we need to see more before we go in that place,” Hurdle said. “We need to keep letting him pitch.”
John Holdzkom made a two-inning outing Sunday for the second time this spring as management tries to determine whether he can handle a multiple-inning role.
Hurdle said the longer appearance also allowed Holdzkom to use his palmball more often. “It probably played better for him better than it has at any time I’ve seen,” Hurdle said.
Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo and Mark Melancon pitched one inning apiece Sunday in minor league games at Pirate City.
“They went back-to-back days, which is one of the things we get all of our relievers to do before we break camp,” Hurdle said.
By pitching three straight scoreless outings, Rob Scahill caught the eye of several scouts assigned to watch the Pirates. Overall, he has allowed two runs and five hits with one walk and two strikeouts in 5 2⁄3 innings.
Hart set for OF duty
Corey Hart will get his first start in the outfield this week, perhaps as soon as Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays. He has appeared in five Grapefruit League games at first base.
Hart, 32, played in eight games in the outfield last season with the Seattle Mariners. He missed the entire 2013 season after surgery on both knees, so the Pirates are eager to see how well he can move in the outfield.
“I like playing the outfield,” Hart said. “I’ve played more in right than in left, but I’m not real picky.”
He missed the first week of spring training games with a cut on his foot.
This is the time of spring when players who likely won’t make 25-man rosters become available through trades and waiver claims. The Pirates have acquired several such players in recent years. Because their roster is mostly set, they could be on the other end of those kind of deals this spring.
“We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said. “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level.”
Among the Pirates who are out of minor league options are left-hander Jeff Locke, right-handers Radhames Liz, Arquimedes Caminero and Stolmy Pimentel, and infielder Pedro Florimon.
Stewart still sidelined
Catcher Chris Stewart said it’s too soon to say if the deep strain in his right hamstring will force him onto the disabled list to start the season.
“It’s a matter of getting it under control and getting back to full strength,” he said.
Stewart felt his hamstring grab while he was running to first base March 9.
“At that point, it wasn’t anything terrible,” Stewart said. “I rehabbed it, then tested it again later in the week and I felt it again.”