Morton can't avoid big inning in defeat

Morton can't avoid big inning in defeat

PHILADELPHIA -- It was another forgettable start for Charlie Morton on Monday night, one that served as a reminder that the right-hander still has a ways to go to establish the sort of game-to-game consistency that will solidify his deserving a permanent spot in a Major League rotation.

After taking small steps forward in his previous two outings, Morton struggled with some of the same issues that had caused him so many problems in April. Most notably, it was Morton's inability to fend off the big inning that led to his early exit and eventually to the Phillies' 12-2 rout over the Pirates in front of 45,371 at Citizens Bank Park.

Pittsburgh entered the night looking to clinch its first winning road trip since 2007. To do so now, the club will have to find a way to knock around Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay on Tuesday.

Morton's troublesome inning this time was the third, which lasted 27 pitches and saw five of the eight Phillies hitters that came to the plate cross it.

Most frustrating, too, about the way the frame unfolded was that Morton was one good pitch away from getting out of it unscathed. He had loaded the bases with one out, but rebounded to get Jimmy Rollins -- fresh off the disabled list -- to pop out. But the next two hitters drove in in five.

"He was close," manager John Russell said. "A couple pitches here or there ... But against a team like that, you've got to be able to get ahead and you've got to be able to throw your pitches down. He backed himself into a corner a little too often and they took advantage."

Morton had Ryan Howard down, 1-2, before the first baseman worked the count full. With the Pirates employing the infield shift that most teams do against Howard, the first baseman laced a perfectly placed ground ball through the opening on the left side of the infield. The two-run single gave the Phils a 3-1 lead.

"Not exactly into our defense," noted Morton, who missed in with a fastball that was supposed to be away.

Right fielder Jayson Werth was up next and Morton stuck firmly with the game plan to pitch him away -- maybe to a fault. The count ran full with Morton throwing his first five pitches away, and the right-hander went that way again with pitch No. 6. But this one -- a 95-mph fastball -- stayed up and over the plate. Werth connected on it, sending it to the opposite field for a three-run homer.

"It wasn't the right pitch," Morton lamented afterward.

Did he consider trying to keep Werth honest by throwing a pitch inside?

"Yeah, it crossed my mind," he said, shrugging.

The inning sunk the Pirates into an insurmountable deficit and marked the seventh time this season that Morton has allowed three or more runs in a single inning. Four times now, that inning has been the third, often the point when Morton is going through a lineup for the second time. That also helps to explain why the Pirates have been outscored, 45-10, in the inning.

"It is one bad inning, but it's a really bad inning," Morton said. "I don't know. I just need to learn to minimize those innings."'

"We're still very confident in Charlie," Russell added. "He's going to be fine. We've seen progress. He's not going to cruise through the rest of the season. He's going to have some bumps in the road. This is one of them."

Morton's 73-pitch night ended after the fourth, marking the fourth time in eight starts that he has been unable to go any deeper than that. It was also much more reminiscent of his disastrous month of April (0-5, 12.57 ERA) than his two previous outings.

He had entered Monday on the heels of two six-inning starts that seemed to have Morton getting back on track. Those big innings had been eliminated and his confidence had been rising.

Even still, the latter, Morton insisted, isn't going to be shaken by one step back.

"It's not going to be a setback," Morton said. "My attitude is good. I feel like I was making decent pitches today and I got hit at the wrong time. I had one rough one."

He wasn't the only one. Morton's mound opponent, Kyle Kendrick, had little issue shutting down a Pirates offense that continues to be consistently inconsistent. Delwyn Young's leadoff homer and fifth-inning groundout drove in Pittsburgh's only two runs.

"[He was] executing pitches and we weren't hitting the pitches we needed to," Young said of Kendrick, who tied his career high with eight innings. "Give him credit, he had a good night."

The Pirates' bullpen had its share of issues, too. Jeff Karstens pitched pretty well in a lengthy relief appearance, but was hurt by a rare mental lapse from Andrew McCutchen. The center fielder watched Kendrick's potential inning-ending flyout to bounce out of his glove, allowing a run to score.

Karstens allowed another in the seventh, and Jack Taschner was stung by two walks and Howard's two-out grand slam in the eighth.

"This is a tough place to pitch," Russell said. "They've got a great club. Just a few too many mistakes."

The loss was the sixth straight for the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park and the 11th in the team's past 12 games here. And of the Pirates' 22 losses this season, 14 have now come by at least six runs.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.