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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit:  Christopher Horner/Tribune Review
Charlie Morton appears to be the leading candidate to occupy the fifth spot in the Pirates’ pitching rotation when the regular season begins next month.
And why shouldn’t he?  He’s coming off a season in which he finished with a 1-9 record with a 9.35 ERA after his first ten starts.  After a demotion to Indianapolis then a trip back up to the majors, Morton concluded the season with a 2-12 record and a horrendous 7.57 ERA.  The Pirates were 2-15 in his 17 starts.
Yep, it sure does seem as though he’s earned the starting job.  But wait, he has pitched “well” in Spring Training this year, and we can’t forget, he has “great stuff.” 
So at this point, the Pirates’ starting rotation would include Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, and Charlie Morton.
Let’s assume (and hope) that McDonald doesn’t have a lingering injury, and that he’s going to be fresh and ready to go for the start of the season.  Even though I haven’t been impressed with Correia’s performances so far this spring, he is, without a doubt, a part of the rotation.
So that leaves the fifth spot up for grabs between Morton, Brad Lincoln, Scott Olsen, and Brian Burres.  There’s no denying that both Morton and Burres have pitched well this spring.  As for Lincoln, more than likely, he’s going to be in Indianapolis.  Hopefully the games the Pirates played with his head last year won’t have long term effects on his development and confidence, but we’ve seen it happen before. 
As for Olsen, injuries are unfortunately playing a role in his chances to joint the rotation.  Initially, he had spoken openly about his disgruntled attitude towards the possibility of pitching in relief this year.  Recently, however, he’s regressed from those statements, implying that he’s open and ready for any opportunity. 
Brian Burres is not the answer either.  He’s a last-minute starter following an injury or an extra-inning game the night before.  He’s not a consistent fifth-spot starter for a team that needs every positive pitching performance it can get.  Burres is a middle-reliever or a spot-starter at best; regardless of what’s he done this spring.
So who does that leave?  Oh yeah…Charlie Morton.  The bottom line is, the Pirates’ management feels comfortable putting Morton out on the mound because they know what they’re going to get from him for the most part.  He’s good for a couple mediocre starts, then a horrid performance where he gives up a dozen runs through a pair of innings, followed a few games by a “dominating” start in which he utilizes his “great stuff” to hold the opponent scoreless through five innings before “running out of gas.” 
Granted, it’s not fair to judge and/or criticize a player based on last year’s performance.  But regardless of whether it’s Lincoln, Morton, Burres, or Olsen, I’m going to have doubts about the fifth starter in the rotation until they prove me otherwise.  I don’t care about how their arms feel, or how confident they are starting the season.  I care about the performance.  If they go out and pitch some scoreless innings, keep the Bucs in the game, then I’ll give them some respect.  Until then, I’ll have my doubts.  I can’t help it…I’m a Buccos’ fan.
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And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!