Morton throws to live hitters for first time since surgery

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Charlie Morton had only one thought as he stood on the mound at Pirate City and prepared to throw to a batter for the first time since May 29.

"I thought about having lunch with my wife in Pensacola the day before I went in for the surgery," Morton said. "We had oysters."

Morton's 12-pitch batting practice to Pirates Minor Leaguers filled the soul, if not the stomach. As he left the mound, the smile through his sweat-drenched face said it all.

The 29-year-old right-hander also put into words the big step away from June 10 Tommy John surgery, saying, "It was fun. I wasn't nervous at all, which surprised me. I just didn't feel that removed from the whole experience."

Morton had already thrown numerous bullpens, and called Monday's outing "bullpen, with batters." He threw only four-seam fastballs, a slight departure from the original plan to have him make 20 pitches, including five changeups.

"We just wanted to be cautious," said Jim Benedict, the pitching maven and special assistant to GM Neal Huntington who oversaw Morton's drill. "It's a progression. It's a combination of physical and mental rehab. Physically, he's way ahead, and he's got to go through different mental stages.

"Next time out, we'll progress to the 20, and mix in some [curves] and changeups."

The general timetable is for Morton to perhaps be ready to return to competition around the anniversary of his elbow operation.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.