PITTSBURGH (AP) — To a man, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation insists there is no sense of gamesmanship among them, no underlying need to try and outdo one another.
It just looks like it.
A week ago Charlie Morton ended a two-game skid by blanking the Milwaukee Brewers. When his spot in the rotation came up again last night against the Chicago White Sox, the spark Morton started has turned into a wave that shows no signs of slowing down.
If Morton felt any pressure, it didn’t show. He worked seven efficient innings to remain unbeaten in his return from the disabled list as the Pirates rolled to a 3-0 victory. His sinker forcing the White Sox to pound the ball into the dirt, Morton (5-0) struck out three and walked just one to lower his ERA to 1.62.
On most teams, that number would be eye-popping. Not on Pittsburgh, where three starters have sub-2.00 ERAs.
“I just go out there and try to keep my team in the game,” Morton said with a shrug.
That’s hardly a problem at the moment for the streaking Pirates, who have won six straight, five by shutout, including the last three. It’s the first time the Pirates have put up zeroes in three consecutive games since the final three games of the 1976 season against St. Louis.
“I haven’t seen anything like this in all my years managing, a run like this of starting pitching,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh’s starters have surrendered one earned run in the last 43 1-3 innings, including 14 1-3 scoreless innings by Morton.
“Nobody is going to get cut if they don’t throw a shutout,” Hurdle said with a smile. “They’re just going out there trying to keep this thing moving.”
Francisco Cervelli and Sean Rodriguez hit solo home runs for the Pirates. Starling Marte, who had two hits, is batting .600 (15 for 25) over his last five games. Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his 21st save.
Jose Quintana (3-7) gave up three runs in six innings and again received little support in his 100th career start. The White Sox have dropped five straight.
“We’ve got to be able to swing the bats better,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “You tip your hat somewhat but some of it’s just a funk we’re in that we have to be able to find a way out of it.”
The White Sox managed all of two hits while getting blanked by Francisco Liriano on Monday night. They weren’t any more effective 24 hours later against Morton, who is enjoying the best stretch of his uneven career following a lengthy layoff from hip surgery and some extra time in the minors refining his mechanics.
Morton’s new delivery isn’t second nature yet, and he admits he spends the first couple of innings trying to refine his motion before settling in.
Chicago’s best chance came in the first inning, when Adam Eaton led off with a walk and stole second. Eaton slid past third base on a fielder’s choice and was tagged out by Jung Ho Kang. Three batters later Morton was out of the inning and cruising. He retired 11 straight at one point, giving Pittsburgh’s offense enough time to solve Quintana.
Quintana’s rough start had smoothed out recently. He came in having won his last two starts after being given four runs to work with, a stark contrast to April and May when the White Sox scored one run or less six times when Quintana’s spot in the rotation came up.
The Pirates moved in front in the third when Andrew McCutchen drove home Marte with a sharp single to left. Rodriguez added a homer deep into the bleachers in left field with one out in the fourth and Cervelli continued his torrid hitting with a rare show of power, taking a Quintana offering 412 feet for his second home run of the season.
Cervelli is hitting .356 since May 1. Just as importantly, opponents haven’t scored a run with Cervelli behind the plate for 51 innings and counting.
“He’s just playing some backyard ball,” Hurdle said. “It’s fun to watch him.”