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 rookie at Gulf Coast League, where he had a 1-7, 4.54 record and a 1.69 WHIP over 39.2 innings, while accumulating 30 walks and 32 strikeouts. Morton pitched for Danville of the short-season Appalachian League during the 2003 season, 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. He finished with 25 walks, 46 strikeouts and a 1.67 WHIP. He moved up to Rome of the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2004, where he spent two full seasons. He went 7-9, 4.86 in 116.2 innings over 18 starts and nine relief appearances during the 2004 season, finishing with 102 strikeouts and a 1.77 WHIP. Morton had a 5-9, 5.20 record over 124.2 innings in 2005, with 86 strikeouts and a 1.49 WHIP. He moved up to Myrtle Beach of the High-A Carolina League in 2006, where things didn’t get any better. He had a 6-7, 5.40 record in 100 innings, with 75 strikeouts and a 1.70 WHIP. He made 14 starts and 16 relief appearances that year. He was showing very few signs of a potential big league pitcher up to that point, forget the fact that he eventually established himself as a quality big league starter. Things began to improve slightly during the 2007 season while pitching in relief for Mississippi of the Double-A Southern League. He went 4-6, 4.29 over 41 games (six starts), with 67 strikeouts and a 1.47 WHIP in 79.2 innings. Morton then posted a 2.57 ERA, 20 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP over 21 innings in the Arizona Fall League after the 2007 season.
Morton began 2008 with Richmond of the Triple-A International League. He had a 5-2, 2.05 record, 72 strikeouts and an 0.99 WHIP in 79.2 innings over 12 starts and a relief appearance, before getting his first shot at the majors. He went 4-8 6.15 in 74.2 innings over 15 starts with the 2008 Braves, finishing with 48 strikeouts and a 1.62 WHIP. He was back at Triple-A to start the 2009 season, until he came over to Pittsburgh in the three-for-one Nate McLouth trade on June 3, 2009. Morton had a 7-2, 2.51 record, 55 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP in 64.2 innings over ten starts with Gwinnett of the International League before the trade. After one start for Indianapolis of the International League, in which he threw seven shutout innings, he was thrown into the Pirates starting rotation. He went 5-9 4.55 in 18 starts for the 2009 Pirates, with 62 strikeouts and a 1.46 WHIP. He finished his season with a complete game shutout of the Chicago Cubs on September 30th. That same Cubs team scored ten runs off Morton in mid-August, before he was lifted in the second inning without recording an out, which really skewed his season ERA. Morton struggled during the first two months of 2010, before being sent to Indianapolis. He went 4-4, 3.82 in 14 starts for Indianapolis, with 53 strikeouts and a 1.41 WHIP over 80 innings. Morton struggled in his first start back with the Pirates, 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. He finished that year with a 2-12 record, 59 strikeouts and a 1.73 WHIP. He made three winter starts in the Dominican during the 2010-11 off-season, posting a 1.80 ERA and an 0.87 WHIP over 15 innings.
Morton’s 2011 season surprised many who had written him off as a potential starter. He finished with a 10-10, 3.83 record in 29 starts, with 110 strikeouts and a 1.53 WHIP over 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. After making just one rehab start for Indianapolis, he came back to Pittsburgh for nine starts in 2012. He struggled with a 2-6, 4.65 record, 25 strikeouts and a 1.45 WHIP in 50.1 innings. He then needed Tommy John surgery, which ended his season early and delayed his 2013 start. Morton made nine rehab starts over three levels in 2013, putting up a 3.32 ERA, 25 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP over 40.2 innings. He returned to the Pirates in June of 2013, which allowed him to make 20 starts that year. He finished with a 7-4, 3.26 record, 85 strikeouts and a 1.28 WHIP in 116 innings. He made one playoff start and lost against St Louis, while 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 during the 2014 season, though it didn’t show in his record while on a playoff team. He went 6-12, 3.72 in 26 starts, with 126 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP over 157.1 innings. For comparison, teammate Gerrit Cole went 11-5 with a 3.65 ERA, so there was a lot of bad luck in Morton’s win-loss record. Morton would end up making 23 starts in 2015, going 9-9, 4.81 over 129 innings, with 96 strikeouts and a 1.38 WHIP. Over his seven seasons for Pittsburgh, he has a 41-62 4.39 record, with 563 strikeouts and a 1.43 WHIP in 801 innings pitched.
Morton was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies during the final season of his contract. He was injured during his fourth start of the 2016 season, which ended his year early. It was a win by subtraction for the Pirates, as the player they received back (David Whitehead) pitched extremely poorly at a low level of the minors, but Morton was paid $9,000,000 in 2016 to pitch a total of 17.1 innings. He signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent after the 2016 season, where he was a part of their tainted World Series win in 2017. He had a 14-7, 3.62 record, a 1.19 WHIP and 163 strikeouts 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 during the World Series, with two runs over 10.1 innings. Morton put up a 15-3, 3.13 record and a 1.16 WHIP in 167 innings during the 2018 season. He 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 during the 2019 season, finishing with a 16-6, 3.05 record and a 1.08 WHIP in a career high 194.2 innings. He also set highs with 33 starts and 240 strikeouts, which ranked him fifth in the American League for the latter category. He was an All-Star for the second time, while finishing third in the Cy Young voting. He also received mild MVP support, finishing 21st in the voting. Morton then struggled in the shortened 2020 season, finishing with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP over nine starts, with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. 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. As a free agent signing in November of 2020, he helped the Atlanta Braves to the World Series in 2021 by posting a 14-6, 3.34 record and a 1.04 WHIP in 185.2 innings, while finishing with a league leading 33 starts. He had 216 strikeouts, which ranked sixth in the league. He was injured early in his lone World Series start, then had to have surgery. He allowed six runs over 16.2 innings during his four total postseason starts that year. Morton made 31 starts in 2022, finishing with a 9-6, 4.34 record in 172 innings, with 205 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He got hit hard in his only postseason start, allowing three runs in two innings. He had a 14-12, 3.64 record for the 2023 Braves, with 183 strikeouts and a 1.43 WHIP over 163.1 innings. During his 16 big league seasons, Morton has a 130-113, 4.00 record in 352 starts (one relief appearance), with 1,880 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP in 1,960.1 innings. He has not thrown a complete game since 2011 (294 straight starts).
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, 27 strikeouts and a 1.51 WHIP in 42.1 innings over 11 starts. He pitched for Madison of the Class-A Midwest League during the 1986 season, where he had a 13-7, 2.66 record, a 1.33 WHIP and 125 strikeouts in 169 innings over 26 starts. He missed some time in 1987, but still made it to the majors after posting a 2.34 ERA, 25 strikeouts and an 0.94 WHIP over 50 innings with Double-A Huntsville of the Southern League. He also had one start back with Madison, in which he threw three shutout innings. He started his big league career with the A’s in September of 1987. He would end up 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 4-9, 3.52 record , a 1.46 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 127.2 innings during the 1988 season for Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He did well during his big league time that year, giving up two runs over ten innings in three September appearances.
Otto was back at Tacoma in 1989, going 10-13, 3.67 over 169 innings, with 122 strikeouts and a 1.33 WHIP. His big league time that year was limited to one start on October 1st, in which he allowed two runs over 6.2 innings. He pitched just 4.1 innings total in 1990, which was broken down to 2.1 frame with the A’s, and two innings for Tacoma. He opened the season with the A’s, where he stayed around until May 1st, but he was used just twice. He had a knee injury when they sent him to the minors, then he pitched just two games over the rest of the season. Otto was let go after the 1990 season, which worked out well for him. He got two extended looks with the Cleveland Indians during the 1991-92 seasons. He posted a 2-8, 4.23 record, 47 strikeouts and a 1.35 WHIP over 100 innings for the 1991 Indians, while making 14 starts and four relief outings. He actually put in a lot of work that season, getting 15 starts and two relief appearances during the first half of the year with Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League. Otto went 5-6, 4.75 during that time, with 62 strikeouts and a 1.62 WHIP over 94.2 innings. He had a 5-9, 7.06 ERA, a 33:32 BB/SO ratio and a 1.78 WHIP in 80.1 innings over his 16 starts and two relief appearances for the 1992 Indians. He also made seven minor league starts that year, mostly with Colorado Springs. He went 3-2, 2.70 over 46.2 innings during that time, with a 1.01 WHIP and just 12 strikeouts.
The Pirates acquire Otto from the Indians in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft during the winter meetings on December 7, 1992. Pittsburgh used him as a starter during the first two months of the 1993 season, where 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. That was followed by a very poor outing against the Philadelphia Phillies, then two more subpar appearances, which spelled the end of his Pirates career. He was released in mid-August, finishing with a 3-4, 5.03 record over 68 innings, with 30 strikeouts and a 1.66 WHIP. He played one more season with the Chicago Cubs before retiring. Otto had a 1.02 ERA over 17.2 innings at Iowa of the Pacific Coast League in 1994. He then made 36 relief appearances with the Cubs, where he had a 3.80 ERA, a 22:19 BB/SO ratio and a 1.58 WHIP 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, so he retired. He had a 10-22, 5.06 record, a 1.57 WHIP and 144 strikeouts over 318.1 innings during his eight seasons in the majors, while making 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. Otto was a 6’7″ lefty.
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 during the 2013 season, followed by a 4.20 ERA over 70 games in 2014. Cervelli had a .729 OPS in 250 games over parts of seven seasons in New York. He helped the Pirates replace All-Star catcher Russell Martin, who left via free agency. Wilson has been a solid reliever over 11 Major League seasons, though he was only with the Yankees for one year before they traded him. Since then he has pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, the Yankees again, and the Cincinnati Reds. Except for 9.1 rehab innings, multiple injuries cost him the entire 2023 season. He has a career record of 33-24, 3.41 in 467 innings over 527 appearances, with 510 strikeouts and a 1.28 WHIP. Cervelli played five seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .264/.362/.374 in 450 games, with 179 runs, 62 doubles, 26 homers and 169 RBIs. He posted a total of 8.5 WAR for the Pirates, with 3.4 coming during his first year in Pittsburgh, when he was able to play 130 games. Another 3.1 of that WAR came in 2018, when he played 104 games. Injuries curtailed his overall effectiveness for the team, while also ending his career early. He had nine trips to the disabled list during his time in Pittsburgh. Wilson has posted 5.7 WAR since leaving 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, where they switched him back to the starting role. He went 10-6, 4.25 in 137.2 innings pitched, with 124 strikeouts and a 1.50 WHIP. He was a September call-up for the 1983 Pirates. He made his Pittsburgh debut during game two of a September 5th doubleheader against the Cardinals, coming in for the ninth inning. He allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, Andy Van Slyke. He then gave up a double to the next batter, before being taken out of the game without recording an out. It was his only appearance in a Pirates uniform. Owchinko was the fifth overall pick in the 1976 amateur draft. He had a 37-60, 4.28 career record in 890.2 innings, with 490 strikeouts and a 1.46 WHIP. We did a Card of the Day article featuring his 1981 Donruss card.