Morton again shrugs off Halladay comparisons
Bucs starter not trying to mirror ace, whom he opposes Friday
ATLANTA -- While engaging in a 10-minute-plus conversation with reporters on Thursday, Charlie Morton emphasized one thing in particular again and again and again.
He is not trying to be Roy Halladay.
All season long, Morton has been hearing Halladay comparisons. Opponents have said it, as have fans and members of the media. Look closely at Morton's delivery motion and reliance on the sinker, and it's easy to understand why. He mirrors Halladay in a lot of ways, particularly since adopting the same shoulder tuck Halladay uses during his motion.
That tuck, though, is the only part of Halladay's motion that Morton deliberately emulated. There was no purposeful attempt made at becoming just like the Phillies ace. Rather, in Morton's attempts to find any change that would help him rebound from 2010, he just so happened to settle into a motion that looks like that of someone else.
"It's not like we had posted frame-by-frame posters of him," Morton said. "Anything that I was doing and anything I've done in my career mechanically has been done to benefit my career. It's not to gain notoriety because I look like somebody or I'm trying to be somebody.
"The only thing I try to do that he does is the tuck thing he does with his shoulder. And I doubt I even do it right."
There was a purpose to all this talk about Halladay on Thursday. As the schedule would have it, Morton will oppose the Philadelphia right-hander in Friday's series opener. While that matchup might be intriguing to everyone else, Morton wasn't even certain who he was facing until someone confirmed it to him.
"It's a story. I understand," Morton said. "The second I start worrying about who I'm pitching against, it's going to occupy my mind more so than it should. Also, it's going to take away from me going over their hitters. It's been more of a story than anything at the forefront of my mind."
Morton faced the Phillies back in June and earned a win with a seven-inning, two-run performance.
Overbay's struggles could force Pirates' hand
ATLANTA -- With Lyle Overbay still unable to gain any traction offensively, the Pirates are discussing how to balance letting him work through those struggles with the team's need to be more productive on offense.
While Overbay is hardly the only member of this Pirates team that is mired in a slump, his has lasted for the entire season. Manager Clint Hurdle has given Overbay periods of rest to attempt to jumpstart the first baseman, but those have not resulted in any noticeable differences. Nor has all the extra time he has put in to work on his swing.
Now 104 games into the season, the Pirates are considering what better options they might have at first base.
"We have obviously anticipated more, and the thing I tell him he can control is his work ethic and the ability to keep working at it," Hurdle said. "Sometimes you have seasons where it just seems like it's a grind all year long. You're pushing that rock uphill all year long. I think that's probably where Lyle is right now."
Hurdle said the Pirates could "very well" increase Steve Pearce's playing time, though Hurdle added that he is inclined to leave Overbay in the lineup against left-handed pitching. Overbay entered Thursday batting .260 against southpaws this season.
In addition to playing Pearce more at first, the Pirates could consider calling up John Bowker or Matt Hague from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Overbay's spot. While the Pirates would obviously prefer not to have a $5 million player sitting on the bench, the urgency to get more offensive production from Overbay's spot in the order might leave no other choice.
General manager Neal Huntington has also shown, with Matt Morris and Aki Iwamura, that he is not unwilling to release a player and eat salary if that is in the best interest of the organization.
"There are a large volume of at-bats to look at this year, and it is what it is at the end of the day," Hurdle said. "Is there time to catch a spark? Yeah. But we need to get something done sooner rather than later."
Overbay was hitless in two at-bats in Thursday's 5-2 win over the Braves, and though he drew three walks and scored a run, he is batting just .229 this season. He is 2-for-19 in his last six games and hasn't driven in a run since June 16.
McCutchen alters approach, gets three hits
ATLANTA -- Andrew McCutchen and manager Clint Hurdle met on Thursday to talk about the approach the center fielder has been taking at the plate throughout the series with the Braves. That discussion, as well as time spent watching video, led McCutchen to make a slight change for the series finale.
That alteration was largely with McCutchen's upper body, which Hurdle said has been turning too much because of an effort to drive pitches. The outfielder also got a little taller in his stance.
The result? McCutchen roped three hits, including the go-ahead double in the fifth and a two-run homer in the ninth inning of the Pirates' 5-2 win.
"I think he was able to spot a little something that I think might help him," Hurdle said before the game. "If that doesn't work, probably a day off would work as well."
McCutchen was batting just .156 since the All-Star break and had one hit in the first three games of the series. The opposing pitching as well as fatigue, Hurdle suggested, could also be contributing to McCutchen's struggles. The latter could have something to do with McCutchen not getting the break most everyone else did because of his invitation to play in the All-Star Game.
Hurdle bumped McCutchen up to hit third, ahead of Neil Walker, for Thursday's game. McCutchen had batted in the cleanup spot in all but one game this month.
Bucs prospect Marte returns after benching
ATLANTA -- Top outfield prospect Starling Marte returned to Double-A Altoona's lineup on Thursday after being pulled a day earlier for not sliding to break up a double play. The organization has not been shy to use such errors of effort as teaching moments since director of player development Kyle Stark arrived after the 2007 season.
While Stark did not specifically cite the third-inning double play as the reason for the benching, he did confirm that Marte was pulled in order to bring attention to a mistake.
"Starling was removed from the game for not playing the game the way we expect it to be played," Stark said. "We've handled it and have moved on."
Ranked by MLB.com as the Pirates' eighth-best prospect prior to the 2011 season, Marte is batting .307 in his first season at the Double-A level. He has been rumored to be coveted by teams that have been in trade discussions with the Pirates, which is why his removal from Wednesday's game drew additional attention.
After watching third baseman Pedro Alvarez play in the first three games of the series, manager Clint Hurdle said he'd still like to see Alvarez more aggressive on fastballs.
"That's the area I think he is still trying to figure out," Hurdle said. "That's a step I think he needs to take next."
After going 0-for-4 in Thursday's finale in Atlanta, Alvarez is 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts since rejoining the club.
Outfielder Jose Tabata continues to engage in light on-field workouts, but Hurdle said Tabata is still not close to being sent out on a Minor League rehab assignment. Tabata has been sidelined with a left quad strain.
Ryan Doumit is scheduled to catch seven innings in a Triple-A game on Thursday. He has one hit in his first seven at-bats since joining Indianapolis. Doumit will serve as the designated hitter on Friday before catching a full game Saturday.
After striking out 14 times on Thursday, the Pirates have now gone down on strikes 801 times this season -- a top-five total in the Major Leagues.
"That's been one of the blemishes," Hurdle said. "We haven't been able to make huge progress on."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.