Colin Dunlap: I Would Bet On Charlie Morton Down Stretch
Charlie Morton wasn’t good on Sunday.
But at this point, as Morton’s record has dipped to 5-11 and he lasted just five innings on Sunday in an 8-2 loss to the Padres, I’m ready to make a stern and unyielding proclamation: I’d ride with Charlie Morton through a pennant race.
More than comfortable doing it.
No question; no question at all.
You see, some will point to that fifth inning in that aforementioned loss to San Diego as to why they’re more-than-suspicious of Morton as these games for the Pirates grow in consequence. They will look at how Morton had it all going so well, allowed a couple hits to start the inning, inexplicably hit a batter with two outs (way ahead in the count) and then gave up bases-clearing triple and parlayed that into a run-scoring wild pitch.
That will be their microcosm — how when it all starts to unravel for the 30-year-old Morton, you can see that train rolling uncontrollably down the track for a span of time until that inevitable crash comes.
You can, to a degree, see that lost feeling in Morton’s eyes start to surface and then, BAM, in the length of the next few batters it seems he’s totally gone haywire.
That’s seemingly how the bad starts have been for Morton, a player the Pirates felt so confident in they extended a three-year, $21 million contract extension in the offseason that will have him around here until at least the end of 2016.
There is, admittedly, no hiding from the fact that Morton has a penchant to hyper-analyze each situation when going back over them after a game. That is, to a degree, a detriment.
Case in point came in his words after the Sunday loss to San Diego when Morton described the 0-2, two-out curveball he hit Yangervis Solarte with.
“Yeah, curveball,” Morton said in retrospect. “You get a guy, two outs and 0-2 and, just, I guess I just tried to do much.”
Know what else Charlie Morton did? He showed up for this baseball team last season when they needed him most. That’s why, even as many look at him as a guy who is struggling in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss, I’d be ready to mount up next to Morton for this stretch run.
Just a hunch, but I think he will pitch well for these Pirates as August dwindles into September and perhaps beyond.
Last season, Morton was 4-1 in his last five decisions and went through a span wherein his final 11 starts of the regular season, he allowed more than three earned runs just once.
Morton also allowed just one home run and pushed his ERA down from 4.07 to 3.26 in the final two months of last season as the Pirates were chasing a National League Central pennant and, by extension, a Wild Card spot.
In the one postseason game he pitched, Morton gave up just three hits — but was done in by a mistake pitch to Matt Holliday in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 of the NLDS to the Cardinals. On that day, he was outdueled by Michael Wacha, who gave up just one hit in the seven innings he worked — a home run to Pedro Alvarez.
So there’s that; there’s last year’s stretch run where Morton might have risen to the point of being the Pirates’ most valuable pitcher through August and September.
There’s also the game Morton threw much more recently, when he went out this past Tuesday against the Marlins and gave up six hits and one run, gritting through 107 pitches in seven innings but still somehow managed to absorb a loss.
I will take that effort every single day for a team fighting for a pennant.
Just as I will take what Morton did last season when this club needed him most.
Just as I would count on him, as this season advances to the games of most significance, to rise up and take command.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.