In April, Charlie Morton went 0-5 with a 12.57 ERA. Those results had a polarizing effect on fans and media. Some wanted him shipped out of Pittsburgh immediately. Others pointed to a strong strikeout rate and average walk numbers, along with an unsustainably high BABIP and HR/FB rate, and predicted improved results as we moved into the summer months. When the calendar turned to May, Morton’s fortunes showed signs of improving. He won his first game on May 5th, and he managed to start the month with 14 homer-less innings. He gave up six runs in four innings on May 17th in Philadelphia, but he pitched better than his final line indicated that night. It seemed that the disastrous start to Morton’s season was finally fading away.
I was in attendance on May 22nd, when Morton went up against Atlanta at PNC Park. I was hopeful that we might see his first truly dominant start of 2010. I was disappointed. To my eyes, Morton delivered his first poor outing of the season that evening. He was out of sync. He struggled with his control. There were Braves all over the bases. He utilized a full 109 pitches to labor through six innings, walking three and managing just three strikeouts. It was not an enjoyable game to watch. However, despite all the struggles, Morton wriggled out of several jams. At the end of the night, he had registered a quality start, allowing just three runs (two earned). The outing was the antithesis of Morton’s 2010 season to that point.
While it was a relief that Morton had finally stranded a few baserunners, the evening was not exactly encouraging. He made his next start on May 27th in Cincinnati. I was playing in multiple softball games that night, so I was unable to watch the game. Apparently, I did not miss much. Morton imploded, allowing seven runs (five earned) in two innings. From the sound of it, he pitched much worse than that horrid line indicated. Morton’s season had reached a tipping point. Even his most staunch supporters knew something needed to change. The Pirates placed Morton on the disabled list with a “fatigued shoulder” and he went to Bradenton to regroup.
Unfortunately, Morton is not getting any better. In fact, he seems to be getting worse. By the time he left the Pirates’ active roster, his peripheral numbers were much less impressive than they were in April. His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates were all right around league average. During his stint at Triple-A, his strikeouts are down slightly and his walks are up a bit. The only true positive is that he has kept the ball on the ground, more than 50% of balls in play. Outside of a complete game on June 24th, Morton has been very pedestrian in the Indianapolis rotation.
Morton was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball the first month of the season. Since then, he has simply been mediocre. Right now, he is struggling just to stand out against Triple-A competition. Morton still might figure things out at some point. He has looked decent the few times I have watched him pitch for Indianapolis, even if the results have been mixed. But the encouraging signs of his 2009 season have just about disappeared from memory.