Last season, Charlie Morton was one of the major leagues' worst pitchers on a Pittsburgh Pirates team that endured another dismal campaign. Not many would have thought he'd be an emerging ace this year.
Morton looks to match a career high with his fifth win as Pittsburgh seeks to split a four-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night at PNC Park.
Last season, Morton was 2-12 as the Pirates led the big leagues with 105 losses during their 18th consecutive losing season. His 7.57 ERA was the highest by any pitcher with at least 15 starts.
That appears to have changed so far in 2011. Morton (4-1, 3.13 ERA) has given up one run in three of his four wins, and is in position to match the five victories he had during his first season with Pittsburgh (18-19) in 2009.
Now in his fourth year, the right-hander overcame a shaky outing to beat Colorado on May 1, but had never won back-to-back starts heading into last Saturday's matchup with Houston. Morton lasted 7 2-3 innings, and allowed a run and five hits in the 6-1 victory.
Though he threw only 94 pitches, including 68 strikes, Morton was replaced by Jose Veras before Daniel McCutchen closed it out.
"The most important thing that we're doing is winning that game," Morton told the Pirates' official website. "If it comes at the cost of me coming out of the game in the eighth, OK."
In three home starts, Morton is 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA. A victory Thursday would tie him for the team lead with Kevin Correia, who has three losses.
Morton's only career appearance against the Dodgers was during the Pirates' 6-2 loss on April 30, 2010, in Los Angeles, where he allowed six runs and six hits in six innings
Seeking his first win in four starts, Jon Garland (1-2, 3.66) will take the mound for the Dodgers (18-20). The right-hander hasn't won since beating Atlanta on April 20, and is looking for his first win in three tries at Pittsburgh.
Garland didn't get a decision Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the Mets after yielding two runs and seven hits in six innings. The defeat was the Dodgers' second straight to open a seven-game road trip.
Los Angeles has since taken three of four following a 2-0 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Hiroki Kuroda went seven innings and combined with two others on a three-hitter.
``(Kuroda) can do pretty much what he wants with the baseball, if he's going,' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Andre Ethier singled and scored the Dodgers' second run on rookie Jeremy Sands' base hit. Ethier had his 30-game hitting streak snapped in Garland's last start, but has hit safely in four games after that, going 6 for 17, and remains second in the NL with a .366 average.
Los Angeles hasn't won three straight on the road this year while the Pirates haven't dropped three in a row at home since a four-game slide April 9-14.
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