Watching Charlie Morton pitch is an interesting exercise. Through about three or four innings tonight, he seemed to be teetering on the brink of a complete control meltdown that would end up losing the game. He only needed 13 pitches in the first inning, but he got three sparkling defensive plays behind him (a diving stop by Andy LaRoche, a great running catch in dead center by McCutchen, and a diving/stumbling catch on a line drive by Delwyn Young). In the second inning, he needed 20 pitches, walked a hitter on four pitches, and required a visit from Joe Kerrigan before escaping the jam. The third inning took 17 pitches with a walk to Barry Zito. He settled in at that point, though, needing 14, seven, six, and 12 pitches to extend his night through the seventh inning, getting four of his six strikeouts over those four innings.
It’s been said over and over again, but Morton’s stuff is good. I don’t know why we kept reading that he wouldn’t stick in a big league rotation when we acquired him, because his fastball/curve/changeup mix can be very good and he’s not afraid to use the changeup when he needs it. The problem is his control. I don’t think it’s an Ian Snell/Kip Wells problem with nibbling and missing; there are some points when it really seems like he doesn’t know where the ball is going to go or how much it’s going to break. I’ll have to take a look at his fastball and see if it’s got any more life on it than some of the team’s other right-handed starters. Whatever the case, he’s had the most success this year against teams like the Marlins and Giants, who tend to swing a lot (both are in the bottom half of the National League in drawing walks and the top half in strikeouts).
The other thing that stood out for me tonight was Andy LaRoche’s at-bat that lead to his RBI singled in the seventh inning. Obviously his .225/.301/.348 line since June 1st is massively disappointing, but tonight he stood in against Zito, fouled off four pitches, took a high, two-strike fastball, and managed to get a pitch he could drive back up the middle for the key single. That’s exactly what he’s supposed to be doing as a line-drive hitter with a good perception of the strike zone, and it gives me hope that maybe he’ll be able to turn things around here in the second half.