Pirates’ Morton on pace for historically bad ERA

With slightly more than a month of the season remaining, Pirates

right-hander Charlie Morton is threatening to have one of the worst

years by any starting pitcher in major league history.

Despite spending nearly three months in Triple-A, Morton is 1-10

with a 10.03 ERA in 11 starts for the last-place Pirates. He has

allowed at least five earned runs in all but three starts, although

he hasn’t lasted longer than six innings anytime.

According to STATS LLC, Morton’s 10.03 ERA is the third highest

by a major league starter going into September since the 1952

season. Only Roy Halladay of Toronto in 2000 (4-7, 10.63 ERA) and

the Pirates’ Steve Blass in 1973 (3-7, 10.40 ERA) had higher ERAs

with at least 10 decisions at this stage in the season.

”It’s been up and down, obviously,” Morton said.

According to STATS, the worst ERA in history for a starting

pitcher who figured in at least 10 decisions was Halladay’s 10.64

in 2000. No other pitcher during the modern era that began in 1900

ended a season with a double-digit ERA and at least 10 decisions.

Charlie Stecher had a 10.32 ERA while going 0-10 during his one and

only major league season with the Philadelphia Athletics in

1890.

Since then, the only other pitcher to end a season with an ERA

of at least 9.75 and at least 10 decisions was Blass, who went 3-9

with a 9.85 ERA only a season after he was the NL Cy Young Award

runner-up in 1972. Blass, now a Pirates broadcaster, inexplicably

lost his ability to throw strikes during that 1973 season and ended

up retiring a season later when the problem didn’t go away.

No doubt Morton hopes his career eventually resembles that of

Halladay or Blass. Since his 2000 miseries, Halladay has won 16 or

more games seven times, and he threw a perfect game for

Philadelphia earlier this season. Blass had seasons of 19-8, 18-6

and 15-8 and won Game 7 of the 1971 World Series for

Pittsburgh.

Morton, acquired by Pittsburgh from Atlanta in the Nate McLouth

trade in June 2009, can throw his fastball in the low to mid 90s,

but often switches to his off-speed pitches when he gets into

trouble. The Pirates want him to be more aggressive, and rely more

on a fastball that he now throws only about 50 percent of the

time.

Morton, however, had location problems during several starts

early this season when he attempted to stay with his fastball. He

was much more consistent for Triple-A Indianapolis, going 4-4 with

a 3.83 ERA in 14 starts.

Called back to the majors to start Sunday in Milwaukee, Morton

repeatedly shook off signs from catcher Ryan Doumit while giving up

eight runs in 3 1-3 innings of an 8-4 loss.

”He needs to trust his catcher a little bit more,” manager

John Russell said. ”He needs to trust himself a little more.”

Morton’s ERA is nearly twice as high as it was last season, when

he went 5-9 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 games with Pittsburgh. He was 4-8

with a 6.15 ERA for Atlanta in 2008. For his career, Morton is

10-27 with a 6.27 ERA in 45 games.

Earlier in the season, Pirates management insisted Morton didn’t

stay in the rotation for nearly two months merely to justify the

team’s decision to acquire him from Atlanta.

For now, the Pirates are saying only that Morton will start

Saturday at home against Washington, a performance that may decide

whether he stays with them for the rest of the season. Morton is

one of five Pirates pitchers with at least 10 losses, the first

time since 1954 the franchise has had that many double-digit

losers.

”At some point, we may feel like it’s better to do something

else (with Morton),” Russell said.