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Postgame: Morton’s progress

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Charlie Morton today had his first ho-hum outing of the spring, allowing five runs in five innings in an 8-5 loss against the Rays. The right-hander yielded five hits, walked three, hit two and struck out two.

“Walks and hit batters,” Morton said with a frown.

Morton gave up two game-tying runs in the fifth inning. He made a bad decision to try for an out at third on a bunt, putting runners on the corners and none out.

“There was a call for three (third base),” Morton said. “I can’t see the play. But, really, I should know the situation and know it’s going to take a heck of a play to make that and should have just gotten the out (at first base).”

With the bases loaded, he hit Evan Longoria with a first-pitch curveball. It was a dumb mistake, easily avoidable and it especially irked Morton.

“I’ve demonstrated I can throw a curveball and not hit the guy,” Morton said. “If I make the pitch there, we’re not talking about it.”

Manny Ramirez drew a full-count walk, though the last two balls were close to the zone. Morton then got out of the jam with a shallow fly ball, a force out and a fly out.

“What’s troubling about today is I kept missing with my sinker in and wasn’t making adjustments,” Morton said. “I just couldn’t get a good feel for it. Instead of concentrating between the knees, trying to get it down there over the plate, I was trying to pick with it in, trying to get him to ground out to third.”

Morton came to camp without a guaranteed job in the rotation. Today was his least effective outing, but it’s also the kind of game that a year ago would have blown up into a two-inning, 10-run fiasco. So, progress?

“I’m really excited about the adjustments we made here in spring training,” Morton said. “I can see the hitters are taking different swings off me than they were last year — way different. It’s not even close. They’re (taking) later swings. They’re swinging through fastballs, belt-high. It didn’t happen last year. I’d make decent pitches last year and get hammered to the wall. Even today, it felt like I was behind in every count, but I didn’t get lit up. My command wasn’t sharp. But I have no questions in my mind about my effectiveness when I’m down in the zone. That’s a huge step forward for me.”

»»» Actor/director Robert Redford will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Pirates-Cubs game Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Redford has no ties to either team, but he did portray Roy Hobbs, a fictitious Brooklyn Knights slugger who hit a game-winning homer off Pittsburgh in the movie, “The Natural.”

»»» The Cubs will wear a patch this season in honor of Ron Santo, who died in December. In August, the team also will dedicate a statue to Santo outside Wrigley. The Pirates have still not announced how they plan to honor former manager Chuck Tanner, who died in February.

»»» Right-hander James McDonald (side injury) will pitch Saturday in Tampa against the Yankees’ Triple-A team.

»»» Righty Jose Ascanio threw 24 pitches today in one inning of work in a minor league game.

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