Slow news day for Pittsburgh Pirates history. We have two players born on this date and two transactions.
Charlie Morton, pitcher for the 2009-15 Pirates. He was a third round draft pick in 2002 out of high school by the Atlanta Braves. He debuted in the Gulf Coast League with a 1-7, 4.54 record in 39.2 innings, with 30 walks and 32 strikeouts. In 2003, Morton pitched for Danville of the short-season Appalachian League, where he had a 2-5, 4.67 record in 54 innings, while cutting down on his walk rate and slightly improving his strikeout rate. In 2004, he moved up to Rome of the Low-A South Atlantic League for the first of two full seasons. He went 7-9, 4.86 in 116.2 innings, with 102 strikeouts in 2004. In 2005, Morton had a 5-9, 5.20 record in 124.2 innings, with 86 strikeouts. He moved up to High-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League in 2006 and things didn’t get any better, with a 6-7, 5.40 record in 100 innings. He made 14 starts and 16 relief appearances that year. To this point, he was showing very few signs of a potential big league pitcher, forget the fact that he eventually established himself as a quality big league starter. In 2007, things began to improve slightly during the season while pitching in relief for Double-A Mississippi of the Southern League. He went 4-6, 4.29 in 79.2 innings. Morton then posted a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
Morton began 2008 with Triple-A Richmond of the International League. He had a 5-2, 2.05 record in 79.2 innings before getting his first shot at the majors. He went 4-8 6.15 in 74.2 innings over 15 starts with the Braves in 2008. He was in the minors in 2009 until he came over to Pittsburgh in the three-for-one Nate McLouth trade on June 3, 2009. Morton was immediately thrown into the Pirates starting rotation, where he went 5-9 4.55 in 18 starts, finishing his season with a complete game shutout of the Chicago Cubs on September 30th. In mid-August that same Cubs team scored ten runs off Morton before he was lifted in the second inning without recording an out, which really skewed his season ERA. In 2010 Morton struggled the first two months before being sent to Triple-A, where he went 4-4, 3.82 in 14 starts. Following his promotion back to the big leagues, Morton struggled in his first start back, leaving him with a 10.03 ERA. He finished the year much better though, as he lowered his season ERA in each of his last six starts, getting it down to 7.57 in 79.2 innings on the next to last day of the season.
Morton’s 2011 season surprised many who had written him off as a potential starter. He finished with a 10-10 record, cut his ERA in half to 3.83, and he was able to pitch 171.2 innings. He threw two complete games, including his second career shutout against the Cincinnati Reds on May 18th. Morton had off-season hip surgery to repair a torn labrum, which had a six-month recovery time, so he missed the beginning of the 2012 season. Morton came back for nine starts in 2012 and struggled with a 2-6, 4.65 record in 50.1 innings, then needed Tommy John surgery. He returned in June of 2013 and made 20 starts that year, going 7-4, 3.26 in 116 innings. He made one playoff start and lost against St Louis, allowing two runs in 5.2 innings. He signed a three-year extension prior to the 2014 season, but missed time due to a hip injury, which cost him the early part of the 2015 season. He did well when healthy in 2014, though it didn’t show in his record while on a playoff team. He went 6-12, 3.72 in 26 starts and 157.1 innings pitched. For comparison, teammate Gerrit Cole went 11-5 with a 3.65 ERA, so there was a lot of bad luck in that record. Morton would end up making 23 starts in 2015, going 9-9, 4.81 in 129 innings. In seven seasons in Pittsburgh he has a 41-62 4.39 record in 142 starts and 801 innings pitched.
Morton was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies during the final season of his contract and he was injured during his fourth start, which ended his season. It was a win by subtraction for the Pirates, as the player they received back (David Whitehead) pitched extremely poorly in the low minors, but Morton was paid $9M in 2016 for 17.1 innings. As a free agent, he signed with the Houston Astros and was part of their tainted World Series win in 2017. He went 14-7, 3.62 in 146 innings for the team that cheated to win the World Series. He pitched poorly in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but came through in the World Series, with two runs over 10.1 innings. In 2018, Morton went 15-3, 3.13 in 167 innings and made 30 starts for the first time in his career. He also topped 200 strikeouts (201) for the first time, while making his first All-Star appearance.
Morton signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for two seasons in December of 2018. He pitched well in 2019, with a 16-6, 3.05 record in a career high 194.2 innings, while also set highs with 33 starts and 240 strikeouts, which ranked him fifth in the American League. He was an All-Star for the second time, finished third in the Cy Young voting and he received mild MVP support. Morton then struggled in the shortened 2020 season, when he finished with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts. He did great in his first three postseason starts that year, then gave up five runs in 4.1 innings during his only World Series start. He helped the Atlanta Braves to the World Series in 2021 by going 14-6, 3.34 in 185.2 innings, with a league leading 33 starts, and 216 strikeouts, which ranked sixth in the league. He was injured early in his World Series start and had to have surgery. In four postseason starts, he allowed six runs over 16.2 innings. In 14 seasons, Morton has a 107-95, 4.00 record in 291 starts (one relief appearance), with 1,492 strikeouts in 1,625 innings.
Dave Otto, pitcher for the 1993 Pirates. He was drafted twice in the second round. The first time was out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles in 1982. The second time was three years later by the Oakland A’s, who selected him out of the University of Missouri. Otto began his career with Medford of the short-season Northwest League, where he had a 4.04 ERA in 42.1 innings over 11 starts. In 1986 he pitched in the Class-A Midwest League with Madison. He had a 13-7, 2.66 record in 169 innings over 26 starts. He missed some time in 1987, but still made it to the majors after posting a 2.21 ERA in 53 innings, with all but three of those innings coming with Double-A Huntsville of the Southern League. He started his career with the A’s that September, briefly seeing Major League time each season from 1987 until 1990, pitching just nine games total over those four seasons. Otto allowed six runs over six innings during his first big league trial. He had a 3.52 ERA in 21 starts with Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1988, and he did well during his big league time, giving up two runs over ten innings.
In 1989, Otto was back in Tacoma, going 10-13, 3.67 in 169 innings. His big league time that year was limited to one start in which he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings. He pitched just 4.1 innings total in 1990, 2.1 with the A’s and two innings with Tacoma. He actually opened the season with the A’s and was around until May 1st, but he was used just twice. When they sent him to the minors, he had a knee injury and he pitched just two games over the rest of the season. Otto was let go after the season, then got two extended looks with the Cleveland Indians. He posted a 2-8, 4.23 record in 100 innings in 1991, with 14 starts and four relief outings. He went 5-9, 7.06 ERA in 80.1 innings over his 16 starts and two relief appearances in 1992. The Pirates acquire him from the Indians in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft during the winter meetings in December of 1992. Pittsburgh used him as a starter during the first two months of the season and he went 2-3, 4.43 in eight starts. He was moved to the bullpen in June, where he lowered his ERA to 4.09 through late July, but a very poor outing against the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by two subpar appearances, spelled the end of his Pirates career. He was released in mid-August, finishing with a 3-4, 5.03 record in 68 innings. He played one more season with the Chicago Cubs before retiring. Otto had a 1.02 ERA in 17.2 innings at Triple-A in 1994, then made 36 appearances with the Cubs and had a 3.80 ERA in 45 innings. His career ended with the 1994 strike. He attended a camp sponsored by the Player’s Union in April of 1995, but he went unsigned and retired. He had a 10-22, 5.06 record over 318.1 innings during his eight seasons in the majors, with 41 starts and 68 relief appearances. He was a broadcaster for a time for the Chicago Cubs after retiring. His father player minor league ball and he son was drafted by the Chicago White Sox.
On this date in 2014, the Pirates traded pitcher Justin Wilson to the New York Yankees for catcher Francisco Cervelli. Wilson pitched 128 games for the Pirates over the 2013-14 seasons, posting a 2.08 ERA in 2013, followed by a 4.20 ERA in 70 games in 2014. Cervelli, who had a .729 OPS in 250 games over parts of seven seasons in New York, helped replace Russell Martin, who left via free agency. Since the trade, Wilson has been a solid reliever, though he was only with the Yankees for one year. Since then he has pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, the Yankees again, and the Cincinnati Reds. In his career he has a 3.42 ERA in 463.1 innings over 522 appearances. Cervelli played five seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .264/.362/.374 in 450 games. He posted a total of 8.5 WAR, with 3.4 coming in 130 games during his first year with the Pirates, and another 3.1 coming in 2018 when he played 104 games. Injuries curtailed his overall effectiveness for the team and ended his career early. He had nine trips to the disabled list during his time in Pittsburgh.
On this date in 1983 the Pirates sold pitcher Bob Owchinko to the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates originally acquired him from the Cleveland Indians in the Bert Blyleven trade. Before he could play a game for the Pirates he was traded to the Oakland A’s in exchange for pitcher Ernie Camacho. Owchinko pitched in relief for Oakland for two seasons before signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent in May of 1983. The Pirates sent him to Triple-A and switched him back to the starting role where he went 10-6, 4.25 with 124 strikeouts in 137.2 innings pitched. He was a September call-up and he made his Pittsburgh debut in the ninth inning of game two of a September 5th doubleheader against the Cardinals. He allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, Andy Van Slyke, and then a double to the next batter before being taken out. It was his only appearance in a Pirates uniform. Owchinko was the fifth overall pick in the 1976 amateur draft and had a 37-60, 4.28 career record. We did a Card of the Day article featuring his 1981 Donruss card.