Hey, all kind of good things happened tonight. Charlie Morton pitched a solid game, the bullpen zipped up the final three frames, the Bucs played flawless defense, and most importantly, the Pirates scored that critical fourth run as they tamed the Cubs 4-2.
First, Morton continued his long climb back to respectability tonight. He had, as usual, one bad inning, but got out of it before it exploded. In the fourth, the first three Cubs singled, two of the hits being well placed rather than well struck.
Morton went 3-1 on Aramis Ramirez, and had no place to put him. He didn't give in, and after an eight pitch at-bat, got him to hit a sac fly. Morton escaped giving up a pair of runs, and shut the Cubbies down in the next pair of innings.
His line was six innings, two runs, four hits, and three K's. More importantly, his command was excellent except in the fourth, and he didn't walk a batter. He handed the ball off to the back end of the pen after a lead off single in the seventh, and Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, and Octavio Dotel threw goose eggs.
JR juggled his line up and came out smelling like a rose. Bobby Crosby took over at second, and had a pair of knocks and a run. Ryan Church got the call in left and homered for the second straight night.
Steve Pearce started at first, and while hitless, made a pair of great saves on bad throws to get the out. And remember, a couple of errors led to Morton's downfall during his last outing, so Pearce's grabs may have well kept Morton's head in the game.
Brian Burres goes against Randy Wells tomorrow as the Bucs try to broom the Cubs.
-- The top four in the Pirate order, Crosby, Andy LaRoche, Andrew McCutchen (back a day earlier than expected from a sprained ankle) and Garrett Jones went 7-for-16.
-- Ronny Cedeno, who's had four hits in the two Cub games after a 2-for-28 spell on the road trip, was the culprit behind returning the pitcher to the nine spot. He wasn't getting on enough to set the table. Now that he's hot, maybe JR will return to using his new toy.
-- Charlie Morton, who had a 50% ground ball rate over his first two years, was down to 40% in 2010 before tonight's start. He wasn't giving up more flies; his line drive rate jumped from 18% in 2009 to 32% this season. So it was an encouraging sign that he got ten ground ball outs tonight.
He's also been using his slider more and fastball less this year, according to Fan Graphs, which offers a pretty interesting chart on him. What a difference a year makes.
-- Everyone's looking for a Steve Pearce - Jeff Clement platoon, but there may be a couple of other guys whose job is on the line.
Lastings Milledge sat again tonight, even with a lefty on the mound. With the team looking for a leadoff hitter and Jose Tabata tearing it up at Indy, Milledge's feel-good story may be coming to an end if he doesn't produce soon.
We also expect to see more of Bobby Crosby and Delwyn Young at second if Aki Iwamura doesn't come out of his funk at the plate and on the field quickly.
-- Alfonso Soriano's home run streak was stopped at four games tonight. He had a single and whiffed twice.
-- Ross Ohlendorf worked four innings for Altoona tonight in what should be his final rehab start. He shut out Greensboro on three hits and a walk while striking out six during his outing.
-- Altoona set-up man Ronald Uviedo leads all Minor League relievers with an .051 opponent batting average, giving up 2 hits in 12-2/3 innings. He pitches ahead of closers Jeff Sues and Danny Moskos for the Curve.
-- Baseball America's Jim Callis (subscription article) says Texas high school righty Jameson Taillon is the consensus #2 in the June draft, and wonders if the Pirates will spend on him or let him fall to the O's?