Morton struggles in fifth rehab start

Morton struggles in fifth rehab start

CHICAGO -- In his first outing since dazzling with a one-run, complete-game gem, right-hander Charlie Morton took a step back.

Making his fifth rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis, Morton lasted just 3 1/3 innings Tuesday. He gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks. Morton struck out three, his lowest total in any of his starts this month.

Pitchers are permitted to remain on a Minor League rehab assignment for up to 30 days, meaning that Morton can make just one more start with Indianapolis before the Pirates have to take him off the disabled list. At that time, Pittsburgh can either have Morton rejoin the big league rotation or option the right-hander to Triple-A.

That decision could hinge on how Daniel McCutchen fares on Thursday. McCutchen is making a second spot start in place of the injured Zach Duke.

With Duke still not cleared to throw off the mound, he won't be back until after the All-Star Game. That means the Pirates will need one more spot start before the midseason break. That could go to McCutchen if he earns the chance to stay. It could also go to Morton, if McCutchen stumbles and Pittsburgh deems Morton ready enough to return.

If Morton does make a final rehab start, it will be Sunday against Louisville.