Morton's first-pitch strikes please Bucs
By Rob Biertempfel
Sunday, March 21, 2010

SARASOTA, Fla. - With three starts left in spring training, Charlie Morton is mostly concerned about ramping up his pitch count.

Morton got his work in Saturday, going 4 2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. But Pirates manager John Russell was most encouraged by Morton's first pitches.

"He did a good job getting ahead," Russell said. "First-pitch strikes (were what pitching coach Joe Kerrigan) wanted him to concentrate on, so this was a nice step."

Morton yielded three runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks. He struck out three and served up Luke Scott's long, solo homer in the fourth inning.

"The last couple of innings, I didn't stay as aggressive," Morton said. "(Usually), I'll read hitters off my fastball and use it to try to get ahead. But I got away from that in the (third and fourth) innings."

Morton began going after hitters with offspeed stuff. He threw more changeups than he had in his previous starts, but that was partly by design.

"I felt like I had to mix in some changeups, so I threw a bunch today, even against right-handers," Morton said.

Double plays helped Morton get out of small jams in the first and second innings. Second baseman Delwyn Young made two fine plays -- snaring Felix Pie's hot grounder and making a smooth pivot to avoid Matt Wieters' slide on a double play.

[HIGH-LIGHT]Daniel McCutchen starts today[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Daniel McCutchen will make his first start this spring today against the Tampa Bay Rays. That means Zach Duke (along with Brendan Donnelly and Jean Machi) will pitch in a Triple-A game at Pirate City.

McCutchen, who is pushing Kevin Hart for the No. 5 job in the rotation, is slated to throw four innings/65 pitches.

Hart's next outing will come Monday in a Triple-A game. Hart, who has battled control problems all spring, is scheduled to throw 60 to 65 pitches. Jack Taschner and Evan Meek also will pitch in that game at Pirate City,

[HIGH-LIGHT]Opposite directions[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Among the extra players the Pirates brought to yesterday's game were infielder Shelby Ford and outfielder Starling Marte. Ford was tabbed as a possible second baseman of the future a year ago, but he faded badly and was demoted to Double-A. Marte, on the other hand, is on the rise after hitting .312 with 24 steals in 54 games for Class A West Virginia.

"It's very exciting to be here," said Marte, who played right field for 3 1/2 innings and singled in two at-bats. "I want to take advantage of every chance I can."

[HIGH-LIGHT]Around the horn[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Lefty reliever Javier Lopez was granted permission to fly home to Golden, Colo., to be with his pregnant wife. ... Infielder Ramon Vazquez was a late scratch from the Pirates' lineup due to a sore shoulder/collarbone. Vazquez was hit by a bad hop during Friday's game.