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Morton, Liriano closer to joining rotation

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PITTSBURGH -- Should the back end of the rotation be heeding Satchel Paige's timeless words?

"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you," the sage of the mound advised.

Two high-end starters are turning the corner in their Minor League rehabs, and manager Clint Hurdle wants their footsteps to be heard.

"Guys know the clock is ticking," Hurdle said of his present starters. "We've got guys coming."

Left-hander Francisco Liriano, lights-out perfect in his most recent start, is stepping up to Double-A Altoona for a Saturday start of four innings or 65 pitches. Hurdle proclaimed him "three starts and ready."

Charlie Morton is considered "one start behind Liriano," according to Hurdle. Morton, working his way back from Tommy John surgery in June, went three innings in a Thursday-night start for Class A Bradenton. He allowed three hits and two runs, picking up two strikeouts and throwing 33 of 44 pitches for strikes. According to eyewitness accounts, his fastball reached as high as 96 mph.

Also due to appear for Altoona in relief on Saturday is Jose Contreras, a candidate for midseason bullpen help.

Clearly, complacency is not affordable by any starter behind A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez -- whose own status will be better known following his Friday-night start, his first since walking off Chase Field's mound on April 8 with a strained left hamstring. Jeff Locke, Thursday night's starter against the Braves, and Jonathan Sanchez and James McDonald, both of whom will be rebounding from shaky starts in their next turns, are apparently on the clock.

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.

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