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Pregame: Morton and the sinker

MIAMI — Charlie Morton’s strikeout-walk ratio has changed dramatically so far this season. That might be a red flag for problems down the road and it’s something to keep in mind when he pitches tonight against the Marlins.

In his last start, a five-hitter Friday against the Reds, Morton walked two and struck out three. Meh. But for the season, he’s walked 12 and struck out six. Uh-oh.

Two starts ago, Morton said he was unhappy about issuing five walks in seven innings and taking a no-decision against the Rockies. But after the Reds game, a complete-game win, he downplayed questions about the free passes.

“I wasn’t really worried about walks,” Morton said. “I’m thinking about getting deeper in games and helping my team win. It’s going to catch up to me eventually, wasting pitches and all that. It’s something I took note of and worked on, but it’s not something I’m overly concerned about.”

It’s not time to push the panic button, but …

Morton’s 0.50 ratio is radically different than what he did over his first three seasons in the majors — 1.17 in 2008, 1.55 in 2009 and 2.27 last year.

Since the start of spring training, Morton has been throwing his sinker like there’s no tomorrow. FanGraphs says Morton throws a fastball (both two- and four-seamers) 88.1 percent of the time, the most among any pitcher in the majors. According to PitchFX stats at brooksbaseball.net, Morton threw a whopping 91 sinkers out of 109 total pitches the other day against Cincy.

Can Charlie keep chuckin’ so many sinkers? Perhaps not. Eventually, hitters will adapt, just as they’ll adjust to how the see the ball coming from Morton’s new arm slot in his revamped delivery.

Morton’s turnaround has been one of the best storylines for the Pirates this year, but the story is hardly complete. He’ll need to continue to evolve as a pitcher for his sparkling run of success to go deep into the summer.

»»» Another interesting note on Morton: Among qualified starting pitchers, he ranks 31st in the majors with an average fastball velocity of 92.0 mph. Morton is tied with Fausto Carmona, Chris Carpenter and Max Scherzer.

Of those four, Morton by far throws the most fastballs. Scherzer throws the pitch 64.9 percent of the time, Carmona 61.0 percent and Carpenter 52.9 percent.

Comparing Morton to other Pirates starters: Paul Maholm (55.9 fastball percentage) averages 87.4 mph. Kevin Correia (48.8 percent) averages 89.4 mph. Ross Ohlendorf (70.6 percent) averages 92.1 mph. James McDonald (70.6 percent) averages 91.9 mph.

»»» Andrew McCutchen is not available tonight, so Jose Tabata will start in center field and Matt Diaz will be in left. More details about this after we chat with manager Clint Hurdle in a few minutes.

»»» Hurdle sometimes wears a protective sleeve on his right elbow, especially on days he throws batting practice. “I’ve thrown a lot of b.p. in my career and this is like a warm fuzzy — it just feels good,” Hurdle said, smiling.

»»» The Pirates signed right-handers Blaine Boyer and Brett Sinkbeil to minor league deals. Bullpen depth move.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (8-9) – 1. Jose Tabata cf, 2. Matt Diaz lf, 3. Lyle Overbay 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Garrett Jones rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (2-0, 1.64)

Marlins (9-6) – 1. Chris Coghlan cf, 2. Omar Infante 2b, 3. Hanley Ramirez ss, 4. Gabe Sanchez, 5. Greg Dobbs lf, 6. Mark Stanton rf, 7. John Buck c, 8. Emilio Bonifacio 3b, 9. Ricky Nolasco rhp (1-0, 4.05)

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