Morton struggles in fifth rehab start
Righty's return might weigh on McCutchen's game Thursday
CHICAGO -- In his first outing since dazzling with a one-run, complete-game gem, right-hander Charlie Morton took a step back.
Making his fifth rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis, Morton lasted just 3 1/3 innings Tuesday. He gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks. Morton struck out three, his lowest total in any of his starts this month.
Pitchers are permitted to remain on a Minor League rehab assignment for up to 30 days, meaning that Morton can make just one more start with Indianapolis before the Pirates have to take him off the disabled list. At that time, Pittsburgh can either have Morton rejoin the big league rotation or option the right-hander to Triple-A.
That decision could hinge on how Daniel McCutchen fares on Thursday. McCutchen is making a second spot start in place of the injured Zach Duke.
With Duke still not cleared to throw off the mound, he won't be back until after the All-Star Game. That means the Pirates will need one more spot start before the midseason break. That could go to McCutchen if he earns the chance to stay. It could also go to Morton, if McCutchen stumbles and Pittsburgh deems Morton ready enough to return.
If Morton does make a final rehab start, it will be Sunday against Louisville.
Crosby could be back in Thursday's lineup
CHICAGO -- Infielder Bobby Crosby reported no more concussion-like symptoms Wednesday, two days after he collided with Lastings Milledge trying to catch a popup.
Manager John Russell kept Crosby out of the lineup for a second straight day, but the infielder is expected to be cleared to return to the field for Thursday's opener against Philadelphia. He hit off the tee prior to Wednesday's game and should be back taking swings during batting practice in a day.
With Crosby still sidelined, Andy LaRoche made his second straight start at second base for Wednesday's series finale. Once Crosby does return, he'll likely jump back into a fairly regular playing role at one of the two middle infield positions. Crosby was on an 11-for-27 (.407) run at the time of the injury.
Trade gets thumbs-up one year later
CHICAGO -- General manager Neal Huntington pulled off his second stunning trade in a month on this date in June 2009, when the Pirates shipped Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Nationals for outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan.
It wasn't a particularly popular trade initially, given Morgan's popularity among Pirates fans, Hanrahan's struggles earlier in the season and Milledge's troubled reputation. A complete assessment of the deal can't be made for years, but at the one-year mark, the Pirates aren't questioning the return.
Hanrahan has been a reliable arm at the back end of manager John Russell's bullpen. In the 63 innings he has logged since the trade, Hanrahan has posted a 3.00 ERA and struck out 72. The right-hander remains under the Pirates' control through 2013, and he is certainly a closing candidate down the road.
Burnett has had similar success since the trade, logging 51 2/3 innings in the past year with the Nationals. He has a 2.96 ERA and 44 strikeouts.
Although the relievers have both fared well in new surroundings, Morgan and Milledge have each had their share of bumps.
Although he didn't join the Pirates until the final day of July last year, Milledge has hit .281 in the five months since. But for a corner outfielder, his production -- five homers and 43 RBIs in 125 games -- is still lacking. Milledge hasn't yet been consistent enough to earn a permanent starting role, and he has shown some concerning defensive flaws.
Morgan took off running last season until a left hand injury ended his year in late August. The results in 2010, though, haven't gone nearly as well. Morgan is hitting .251 through 75 games and has the lowest on-base percentage (.312) of his career. He has swiped 17 bases, but Morgan has also been caught a Major League-leading 11 times.
"It is way too early to fairly evaluate the trade given the years of control that remain with each player," Huntington said. "I think the simplest statement is they seem pleased with their end of the deal, and we are pleased with our end of the deal."
With his appearance Tuesday, reliever Brendan Donnelly has now pitched in 32 different ballparks. Prior to the team's visit to Chicago this week, Donnelly had never appeared in a game at Wrigley Field. ... Catcher Erik Kratz was the only player from the Triple-A Indianapolis roster to be selected for the International League All-Star team. Kratz entered Wednesday hitting .306 with 27 doubles, eight homers and 30 RBIs in 47 games this season. ... Chris Jakubauskas (head contusion/concussion) has joined the Class A Bradenton club as he continues his Minor League rehab assignment. In his first start for the Marauders, Jakubauskas allowed three earned runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out three.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.