PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The 2013 baseball season, at minimum, will be remembered as the one that ended a torturous streak of losing in Pittsburgh, and for backup catcher Michael McKenry, it will be remembered as the one in which the Pirates came into their own.

As part of his media tour while recovering from meniscus surgery, “The Fort” joined “Starkey, Miller and Mueller” (weekdays 2:00-6:00 P.M. on The Fan) to discuss the progress he has made since his left knee was hurt July 27.

“It’s been about six weeks, so I’m ready to kind of take the rehab to the next level, and start moving around on my own,” said McKenry, who added he will spent just a few more days on crutches.

He evaluated the Pirates’ pitching staff, which entered the weekend with the third-best team ERA (3.26) in the majors, and what can be done to bolster it.

Left-hander Jeff Locke is still trying to overcome a terrible second half that has seen him post an ERA over 6.00 in that span, along with a steadily increasing walk rate. Meanwhile, Charlie Morton will look to build upon his second-half consistency when he takes the rubber against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium Sunday.

“The number one thing I stay away from is anything that has to do with mechanics, or anything that has to do with the hitter. I want him to focus on the guy that’s catching. Jeff Locke is unbelievable at playing catch. As a catcher, we can take charge, and manipulate his delivery and release point by showing him targets,” McKenry explained. “It’s the same thing with Charlie Morton. You don’t want to make them over-think the game.”

Morton, known for pitching to contact effectively, has gone 6-1 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.30 WHIP since the All-Star Break.

“He’s always been good. He’s got, honestly, some of the best stuff on our staff. He’s learning who he is…how to use his sinker effectively to lefties, how to use his change-up, and when to use his change-up. He’s becoming a pitcher.”

McKenry shared stories about rookie starter Gerrit Cole, and his thoughts on whom he would start in a do-or-die playoff game if he were manager Clint Hurdle:

Count him among those who credit pitching coach Ray Searage for the outstanding work by the pitchers. McKenry believes Searage’s unique training methods, along with his extra devotion to the job, have made the difference.

“He’s a players’ coach. The one thing that he’s done differently since Hurdle has been here is they have a throwing program they’ve implemented, and it starts about a month-and-a-half earlier than most throwing programs for other clubs,” he said. “He’s done that to try and progress them a lot slower so they come into spring training 100 percent ready. He’s been really good about that.”

Meanwhile, McKenry dished with the guys about the minutiae of the MLB lifestyle, including his most embarrassing moment on the field, his rapport with umpire Jerry Meals after that infamous July 2011 game in Atlanta, and what sort of conversations take place between him and certain players in the batter’s box:

He surprised Starkey by singling out Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips as one of the quieter opposing hitters he’s encountered.

“I think he’s got a thing out for the Pirates. He wants to win every time, and kind of put it to us. He doesn’t really say much.”

McKenry is on target to return for the beginning of spring training next year, and he says he’s grateful for those fans who support him and applaud his attitude toward the game.

“We’re very fortunate to be here, very fortunate to play. I love being on the field no matter what,” he said. “The opportunity to play every single day is a blessing, and we need to realize that daily.”

He hit .217 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 41 games this year in relief of Russell Martin.


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