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Whither Morton?

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Charlie Morton didn't have his best sinker against the Rays (AP photo)

Charlie Morton didn't have his best sinker against the Rays (AP photo)

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Will Charlie Morton be ready to pitch April 11 in the Pirates fifth game of the regular season? Or does Morton — who tonight allowed six runs on six hits in five innings against the Rays — need more time to recover from offseason hip surgery?

“That’s a gray area,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think he’s making progress. He was very clean and efficient early (tonight), then the one inning kind of fatigued him. We didn’t get him where we wanted to with his pitch count (75 pitches instead of 90), but he made some progress.” Hurdle said management will continue to discuss its options with Morton, who could stay in Florida for some extended spring training.

“I’m assuming they’ve made a decison and they were waiting to see what happened tonight,” Morton said.

Morton’s sinker was not sharp, and he gave up big hits on his other stuff. Luke Scott homered on a cutter. Elliot Johnson whacked a changeup for a two-run double and clubbled a curveball for another double. “I gave up a few ground ball singles on the sinker, which was fine,” Morton said. “I felt like I was out of sync. Those are the kinds of things that, as the season goes on, I’ll be able to pick up what’s going on with my body. Tonight, the adjustment wasn’t as quick as it needed to be. I was pulling a lot of sinkers, missing with my sinker. There were times I had two strikes on guys and didn’t put them away.”

»»» Evan Meek tossed one inning, with two walks and two strikeouts. It was his eighth outing this spring; five of the past six have been scoreless. “We’re pleased with the progress,” Hurdle said. “Plus, he’s carried one of the heavier workloads out of anybody in the bullpen this spring. Talking with Rod (Barajas) tonight, there was movement and velocity. It was another step forward. His mound presence is improving; there’s a lot more confidence out there now. I continue to be encouraged by the progress he’s making. It’s already way better than anything he showed last year.”

»»» Non-roster invitee Juan Cruz continues to look like a lock to snag a bullpen job. The righty tossed a 1-2-3 inning, including a swinging strikeout of Sean Rodriguez. “Juan’s pitched well this spring,” Hurdle said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s competed well, he’s gotten outs and he’s been efficient with it.”

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