May 22, 2010

5th Starter Battle Tonight

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 22, 2010

Tonight's games could lead to a shakeup in the Pirates starting rotation.

Management continues to insist that Charlie Morton, 1-7 with a 9.68 ERA, has been throwing well, is the victim of bad luck and is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The results say otherwise. There's no chance any team would keep a starter in the rotation all year with Morton's current level of performance.

Regardless of what anyone says, my belief is that Morton has to be pitching for his starting job to some extent. He throws hard enough to pitch in the major leagues but he doesn't have enough movement on his fastball. He's also looked as comfortable with men on base as he looked in this dress for Braves rookie hazing in 2008.

It's not time to give up on Morton but it would be appropriate to send him to AAA, the bullpen or even the disabled list. There's no reason for him to have a longer rope than, for instance, what the Red Sox gave Josh Beckett this year.

Top starting pitching prospect Brad Lincoln, 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA, starts in Indianapolis tonight against the Braves' AAA team. With their starts and rest falling concurrently he would be the obvious candidate to trade places with Morton. Brad got hit around in two of his April starts but has pitched very well in May - a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings with 15 hits allowed, 3 walks and 21 strikeouts.

He also turns 25 this week and there's not much point in keeping him in the minors for much longer. If Lincoln continues to pitch well, it's hard to imagine the Pirates not giving him a shot at the MLB level. Even though Brad was a Dave Littlefield draftee, no one wants to use a former #4 overall pick as an organizational filler guy at AAA. He has an above average MLB fastball right now and has apparently improved his secondary pitches this year as well.

Should Morton get things together, Brian Burres (2-1, 4.91) is the other candidate to be dropped from the rotation. Burres has done a decent job for the Pirates, showing that he's a legitimate #5 starter. But he doesn't have anything approaching Lincoln's upside, so it wouldn't be prudent to let him block Lincoln's development.

UPDATE: Lincoln went eight innings for the win, giving up three runs on five hits and no walks. He continues to look MLB ready. Morton saved his rotation spot for now, giving up three runs (two earned) over six innings although allowing two home runs.

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