Ray Searage goes back to work


NEW YORK – Much has been made about Ray Searage‘s ability to spin yarn, or at least Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and others, into gold.

Searage’s track record the last several years has been sterling, his ability to communicate with players uncanny. But Searage has some work to do in 2014 as the Pirates’ starting staff has gone from a strength in 2013 to a great area of concern. The Pirates’ offense  has actually improved –  having scored the fourth most runs in the NL in June – and the bullpen is bound to improve when looking at those underlying skills.

But the rotation? Too many pitches have been up in the zone this season, or out of the zone, and the trend continued at Citi Field.

Charlie Morton continues to be a perplexing case.

Morton’s control was off and his pitches were flat in Wednesday’s loss, not a great combination for a two-seam pitcher.

Morton’s two-seam velocity was also back down to the 90-92 mph range after he showed a spike back to his 2013 levels in his win over Washington in his last start. Morton is now 1-7 on the season.

Morton said the velocity jump was a product of a mechanical adjustment he is making with Searage, which is essentially focused on generating more power his lower body. But Morton noted there are “highs and lows” when implementing an adjustment.

“We looked at tapes from last year to this year and the (back-side) load wasn’t quite there,” Searage said. “I’m talking about being in a power position at the top of your delivery to explode through the baseball, to power down the hill… We are making progress.”

Morton said he has monitored his PITCHf/x data. He said his movement is similar to 2013 levels but he notes the velocity has been down.

The Pirates gave Morton a three-year, $21 million extension because of his 2013. It’s important he gets back to that 2013 level. He’s the only Opening Day starter other than Gerrit Cole under club control in 2015.

*Searage said Edinson Volquez‘s velocity spike Tuesday – sitting 93-96 mph and touching 98 – was not a focus of sidework. The problem was the velocity was not accompanied by command.

“It was one of those nights where the velocity just showed up. His mental approach we’ve been working on being more aggressive inside. Using his fastball to more of his advantage,” Searage said. “He pitches at 92-94, but if you know you have 97 in the tank. … It’s not a bad thing.”

*Searage believes he had a productive bullpen session with Francisco Liriano on Tuesday. The Pirates can’t afford for Liriano to have another third of a season like his first: 0-5, 5.06 ERA.

(His underlying rates suggest there’s been some bad fortune but there’s been plenty of poor execution).

“He picked up some bad habits,” Searage said. “We saw some things on video. … At times his front side will fly open, (and) he’s late with ball-glove separation.”

It’s imperative Searage get at least two of these three key arms figured out or its going to be a long summer.

Searage’s work is only going to continue going forward as Volquez and Liriano are free agents, Wandy Rodriguez has already been dispatched, meaning there will be likely be three new starting rotation members in the spring of 2015.

Brandon Cumpton had an impressive Memorial Day start and could very well lay claim to one of those spots. Jameson Taillon could be up in the second half of 2015, but there are going to be a lot of question marks after C0le and Morton.

But that’s a focus for another day. With a brutal West Coast trip awaiting, Searage needs what he believes have been productive bullpens and side sessions to start producing in-game results or the Pirates are going to be an incredibly deep hole.