8/11/2013 5:50 P.M. ET
Morton: Focus keeping Bucs on track in '13
By Ian McCue / MLB.com
DENVER -- The Pirates have quickly turned into the Cinderella story of the 2013 season, on pace not just to play in October for the first time since 1992 but also to finish with one of the top records in the Majors.
So what has served as the glue holding this young team together?
According to starter Charlie Morton, who joined the rotation in mid-June after starting the season in the Minors, it is the sense of a steady equilibrium in the clubhouse. There is no rush to slam the panic button after a loss and no overwhelming sense of excitement after a victory over a division rival.
"I think what the team has done well is they've put things in perspective well," Morton said. "The emphasis has been on the game that night. So that really doesn't leave a whole lot of room for focus on other variables. I think that's extremely beneficial, because it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders to think that, 'I don't have to worry about the game a week down the road; I don't have to worry about a series two weeks away.'"
That subtle confidence courses through the veins of the clubhouse to give Morton, who takes the mound Tuesday for the first of a critical three-game set with division rival St. Louis, a singular focus.
"I can focus on the one thing I have to do tonight, which is throw the first pitch or throw the second pitch after the first pitch," Morton said. "And then that really limits a lot of the difficultly, the perceived difficulty."
GM Huntington talks pitchers, catchers
DENVER -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington provided a series of updates just before the start of Sunday's game against the Rockies:
• Huntington said All-Star starter Jeff Locke, in the midst of his first full Major League season, is not on the same type of innings or pitch limit as rookie Gerrit Cole. That is in part because Cole pitched in the fall Instructional League for each of the last two years.
"In Jeff's case, innings-wise, pitch-wise, he's fine," Huntington said. "He's thrown a large number of pitches in the Minor Leagues last year and the tail end of the big leagues last year.
"At the same time, we want to be cognizant of the fact that he's made every turn. He and Gerrit are our starters that have answered the bell on a consistent basis. So there may come a point in time where we give them a little bit of an extra breather as well."
• The Pirates are still in the market for a third catcher to give them additional depth for a potential postseason run. Huntington noted fewer players had cleared waivers than in recent years, which could make it an especially difficult year to find the man they were looking for behind the plate.
The organization's deadline to have the player in their organization is Aug. 31, the latest players can join and still be eligible for the postseason roster.
"We're very comfortable with [Russell Martin ] and Tony [Sanchez]," Huntington said. "It's that depth -- Is there something better than what we currently have? -- heaven forbid we have an injury or a third catcher in September."
• Pittsburgh's GM confirmed that Wandy Rodriguez would be brought back as a starter and not a bullpen arm. On Saturday, Rodriguez threw his first bullpen since injuring his left forearm in early June, and he is on schedule to throw another bullpen Wednesday in addition to a simulated game next weekend in Pittsburgh.
"He's not going to start at five [innings] and 80 [pitches], but we don't have to start him at one and 20 as we do in Spring Training," Huntington said. "He'll throw a couple sides and see how the sim game BP segment of this goes -- does he need two, does he need three, does he need one? Then, how quickly can we get him out of rehab?"
• Right-handed pitcher James McDonald started his throwing program at the Pirates' Spring Training complex and should throw a simulated game later this week.
Though a starter at the beginning of the year, McDonald will most likely return as a reliever, and Huntington said the plan was to build McDonald up to three innings and 50 pitches and decide how to move forward from there.
"Word from Florida is that he feels great and he's anxious to get competing again," Huntington said.
• Pitcher Jeff Karstens is on schedule to start a throwing program in mid-August. Though he has spent much of his career as a starter, if Karstens returned, it would be as a reliever, Huntington said.
"He's working towards it; he wants to come back and help this club, he wants to contribute and be a part of this and we're certainly not going to hold him back," the GM said. "But at the same time, we got to be smart about his long-term as well as moderate-term."
Marte, Alvarez avoid serious injuries
DENVER -- They were two injuries that, if serious enough, could have derailed the Pirates' dream season.
But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle delivered good news on third baseman Pedro Alvarez and outfielder Starling Marte, both of whom sustained left hand injuries in Saturday night's loss to the Rockies.
Marte had a new and larger bandage around his left hand before Sunday's game and did not start, but Hurdle said he could be available for the series finale against the Rockies. Marte took a 91-mph heater from reliever Josh Outman in the top of the seventh inning off his left hand and crumpled to the dirt in pain before leaving the game.
"We have a day off tomorrow, and then there wasn't anything screaming at us that he's hurt and going to be out a while at this point," Hurdle said.
"The scan we got last night showed no fracture; we'll have our doctors look at it today. I know his legs are OK. Whether he can grip the glove, we're going to find out. ... We're on the mindset that we're going to be able to have a better read after today."
Alvarez said he swung a bat Sunday morning without issue, and he was in the lineup for Sunday's game. He injured his glove hand in the bottom of the sixth Saturday when Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler tried to slide into third, Fowler's spikes punching the ball from Alvarez's glove and forcing the glove off his hand.
Alvarez lacerated his left index finger on the play but experienced nothing debilitating, Hurdle more than aware that he had escaped a dangerous situation.
"Within a real short period of time, you got two of your major participants that initially looked like there could be complications," Hurdle said. "Pedro's [injury was] not probably as bad as I anticipated when I walked out there, just because of seeing the reaction of what could have happened."
Bucs use off-day to skip Cole in rotation
DENVER -- The Pirates will turn to two of their best arms in a crucial series against the Cardinals that starts Tuesday.
As previously announced, Charlie Morton will get the nod in Game 1, while Francisco Liriano takes the mound Wednesday and A.J. Burnett will close the series, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
That plan allows Pittsburgh to take advantage of Monday's off-day by skipping rookie starter Gerrit Cole, whom the Pirates are monitoring closely. Cole has already thrown 66 innings in the Majors but has thrown more than 100 pitches in just one game, often hovering in the 80s or low-90s.
"We prefer not to trim it as we did the last time with it by having to leave the game after five innings, but pick our spots," Hurdle said.
"So this actually, the way we mapped it out for him, he'll make three starts through the end of the month instead of four. We knocked an entire start out, knocked another 100 pitches off the plate. We'll look to trim in other places as well."
Cole will get two side sessions because he is missing a start, the first Sunday at Coors Field and another in St. Louis, where he may face live batters.
Liriano and Burnett boast two of the three lowest ERAs on the staff, while Morton is 4-3 with a 3.88 ERA. Cole, 22, made his big league debut June 11 and is 5-5 with a 3.95 ERA through 11 starts.
• Trainers checked on left-handed reliever Justin Wilson during Saturday night's game, but Hurdle said Wilson felt fine Sunday morning and was fully healthy.
• Peyton Manning, a good friend of Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, made a brief visit to the clubhouses of both the Pirates and Rockies Sunday morning.
Hurdle shared a story from when he managed the Rockies about Manning coming to the park to take early batting practice -- for fun. But before Manning even stepped onto the field for BP, he requested a 30-minute cage session with the big league skipper.
"It kind of gives you the CliffsNotes on Peyton Manning, that he's Peyton Manning and what you see on the football field is what you see a lot," Hurdle said.
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.