Morton said the most emotional part of his rehab came after his first bullpen session and then his first rehab start April 8 in extended spring training, when he knew his return was becoming reality. But still, it's hard not to have some feelings taking the mound at PNC Park for the first time in more than a year.
"You can't escape emotion," Morton said. "I'm going to be nervous. I'm going to be excited, emotions that anyone would feel."
Morton is starting in place of Wandy Rodriguez, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm strain. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is excited to see the righty in action, because it's difficult to evaluate him just on film.
"If we can go get the Charlie that we had in the first half of the season in 2011, we'll take that in a bottle and roll," Hurdle said. Morton went 7-4 with a 3.77 ERA in his first 14 starts that season and finished at 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA.
But with Rodriguez set to return later this month, there's no guarantee Morton is in the rotation for good, although Hurdle won't worry about that until the time comes.
"I don't know," Hurdle said when asked if Thursday is a spot start for Morton. "We'll just figure out as we go. I don't need to make those decisions now for a group. I think we need to give Charlie an opportunity to go pitch and that will help us make our decision."
Morton made four rehab starts for Triple-A Indianapolis and nine total. He said preparing the same way before each game helps him get back into a rhythm, but when he takes the mound Thursday, that could all go out the window.
He'll have to adjust on the fly to what the game hands him.
"The game never goes the way you think it will," Morton said. "You set yourself up as best as possible for that chaos."
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.