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03/03/11 6:01 PM ET

Morton enjoyed being in zone against Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Free to rely on his sinker again, Charlie Morton is finding early success being efficient and effective in Grapefruit League action.

In his two spring starts so far, Morton has been noticeably more aggressive than he was early last season. That tendency to nibble around the plate isn't as evident, and that is entirely intentional.

Rather, Morton is feeling more comfortable pitching to contact with his sinker. It's been his go-to pitch when he's fallen behind in the count and when runners have been on base. And more often than not, Morton has gotten encouraging results.

"I think when I get that good sinker action, it allows me to be more aggressive in the zone," said Morton, who has induced three double plays in five innings this spring. "I don't have to be too fine. I can be more over the plate, just down in the zone."

Being around the strike zone with regularity kept Morton efficient in his three-inning start on Thursday. He threw only 25 pitches -- 19 were strikes -- and faced just one hitter over the minimum. He attacked the Blue Jays with a heavy dose of sinkers and four-seam fastballs.

"He's letting the ball work for him now," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's kept the ball down with great regularity. It's great to see him out there competing and feeling good about himself."

Under the advice of former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, Morton stopped throwing the sinker -- a pitch he had used the two seasons prior. Morton now hopes it's no coincidence that his 2010 struggles coincided with the absence of the pitch.

Morton began throwing the sinker again when he was sent down to the Minors following his 1-9 start with the Pirates. Morton used it, as well, when he returned to Pittsburgh for the final month of the season. There are no plans to harness the pitch again.

"I just need to make better pitches," Morton said. "I'm not a finesse guy. I'm not a control guy. When I can be in the zone and aggressive, that's when I'm throwing down in the zone and guys are beating balls in the ground. I wasn't doing that early last year."

Hurdle impressed with Bucs' starters

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The sample size is still small, but six games into the Grapefruit League season, manager Clint Hurdle likes what he has seen out of the team's starters.

Following six strong innings from Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln in the team's 4-1 win over the Blue Jays on Thursday, Hurdle had some strong words for all those who expect the team's starters to be the weak link in 2011.

"We're going to pitch better than anyone thinks we are," Hurdle said. "We're going to get piled on. We're going to get beat up. Everyone is going to say what they want to say. I understand that. But our guys are focused.

"I think [pitching coach] Ray [Searage] has done a nice job of taking the momentum that they grabbed from the last two months of last season, rolled it into this year. They are focused on getting out. They're focused on carrying their end of the deal. We're going to rely heavily on our starters."

One year after the rotation posted a Major League-high 5.28 ERA, Pittsburgh's starters are eyeing a rebound year. Morton and Lincoln are already making the competition for the rotation's fifth spot interesting early. The team's other four starters remain healthy and where they want to be in their progression toward Opening Day, too.

"It doesn't matter what is thought of outside the four walls out of the clubhouse," Hurdle said. "These guys are taking this seriously. They want to change the mentality."

Farrell joins his father in Dunedin

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Minor League outfielder Jeremy Farrell joined the Pirates on their trip to Dunedin on Thursday. It's customary that the club calls on a few players from Minor League camp to join the travel squad and serve as backups. For Farrell, though, the chance to be on this trip was especially meaningful.

Last October, Jeremy Farrell's father, John Farrell, was named the 12th manager in Blue Jays' history. That meant a father-son reunion was in order when Farrell arrived at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"It's awesome," Farrell said on Thursday morning. "We got the opportunity to do this a few times when he was [a pitching coach] with the Red Sox. Anytime you can come over here and go on a trip with the big league team, it's an honor. It makes it that much more special knowing that he is on the other side. It will be a good day."

Farrell was told he would be making the trip in a phone call Wednesday night. He immediately phoned his father to pass on the news.

"It's always nice," John Farrell said. "A situation like that is rare. You're proud of your kid's accomplishments but, still, he's in another uniform and the fact is that we have a lot of work to do on our side."

Farrell entered the game in the eighth as a pinch-hitter. He grounded out in the at-bat, which was his only one of the afternoon.

Bucs come to terms with 27 players

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Pirates announced on Thursday that they agreed to terms with the remaining 27 unsigned players on the club's 40-man roster. All of these players have fewer than three years of service time.

The Bucs actually have 29 players on the roster whose service time falls in this zero-to-three year range, though Pedro Alvarez and Aaron Thompson already had contracts for the 2011 season. Thompson had his contract renewed by Washington before the Pirates claimed the left-hander off waivers.

Alvarez signed a Major League contract with the club when he agreed to terms after the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. In that contract, it guaranteed the third baseman $550,000 for the upcoming season.

Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Meek, Jose Tabata and James McDonald were included in this final group of players to officially sign one-year contracts.

Bucs Bits

Right-hander Evan Meek is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Friday. Assuming Meek, who has been slowed due to minor right calf tightness, doesn't have any issues, he'll be ready to get into Grapefruit League action next week. ... Scott Olsen (mild left hamstring strain) will throw another bullpen session on Saturday. The lefty remains at least a week away from getting into game action, though, as he still needs to throw two live batting practice sessions before then. ... Lefty Joe Beimel (left forearm soreness) was scheduled to test his arm by playing catch on Thursday morning. When Beimel tried to do so on Tuesday, he had to stop because of continued discomfort. ... Andrew McCutchen hit leadoff on Thursday, marking the first time he's hit from that spot this spring. Manager Clint Hurdle has been vocal about his desire to see how McCutchen looks hitting in the No. 3 hole.

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.