But things have changed, and now, Hurdle doesn't have a myriad of options from which to choose. The Pirates placed lefty Wandy Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with left forearm tightness, retroactive to Thursday. He left his start that day against the Braves after just one-third of an inning. Gomez is on the DL and Karstens is likely done for the season.
So Morton will make his 2013 debut Thursday, a day before the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery, in place of Rodriguez, two days after Gerrit Cole's big league debut. Cole, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, has gone 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts for Indianapolis.
"His last start was his best start," Hurdle said of Morton's rehab. "We pushed him pretty good and I think he's in a pretty good place."
Morton made four rehab starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, allowing eight earned runs, 16 hits and 10 walks while striking out 12 in 19 innings. He threw 6 1/3 innings Saturday and surrendered two runs, six hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
The Pirates will have to make a corresponding roster move to make room for Morton. Cole took Rodriguez's 25-man roster spot Tuesday. The Pirates made room for him on the 40-man roster by dealing John McDonald to the Indians.
While Morton will make his season debut Thursday, McDonald still has some work to do. The Durham Bulls stole seven bases off McDonald in his last rehab start. He allowed three runs on four hits and a walk over 3 2/3 innings.
McDonald was set to make his second rehab start for Indianapolis on Tuesday, and Hurdle said he'd like to see the righty throw 90 pitches. Pittsburgh's manager said he thinks McDonald will fare much better than he did in his last start for Indianapolis on Thursday.
"Strike zone command, controlling the running game will be two targets, as well," Hurdle said.
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. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.