PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton is not yet in crisis mode. But the right-hander's rope is getting shorter, and he is aware of having to regain his confidence to avoid becoming the odd man out when Jeff Karstens is ready to rejoin the rotation.
Morton took his sixth loss, tying for most in the National League, in Tuesday night's start, in many respects the poorest of his nine. Reverting to last season, he has won only three of his last 17 starts. With hip surgery for a torn labrum in between, manager Clint Hurdle remains hopeful the veteran righty is still working his way through some mental roadblocks.
"The velocity is not where it was last year, but we expected that. Sometimes, you subconsciously hold back," Hurdle said. "We're trying to keep him open minded about what he is feeling; I talked to him earlier today. He has to trust his delivery, and not try to create more movement [on the pitch] by altering his delivery."
In the start against the Reds, Morton lasted only four innings and allowed four runs, raising his ERA to 4.65. Uncharacteristically, only four of his 12 outs came on the ground, and he failed to register a strikeout for the second time in four starts.
"I think if I was being more aggressive with my sinker, the results might have been different," Morton said. "Some of it was pitch selection, most of it was poor execution.
"I need to get back to where I'm in a groove, and I feel that the ball is coming out decently. For me, confidence doesn't necessarily come from results, but from a feel. I'm confident I'll figure something out the next time I throw."
That next outing will again come against the Reds -- who have already beaten Morton twice -- in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
The shadow is cast by Karstens, who is set to go five innings or 80 pitches in a rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday. Although Hurdle emphasized that Karstens' comeback from shoulder inflammation is being handled on a day-by-day basis, the natural escalation of the pitch counts in his rehab starts suggests he will make one more following Thursday night's.