Morton working his way back from elbow injury

PITTSBURGH -- It was only one rehab start, Charlie Morton's first in fact, but Clint Hurdle couldn't suppress his enthusiasm Friday afternoon as he went through the glossy report stemming from it.

Bradenton pitching coach Justin Meccage's rundown of Morton's three-inning start for the Marauders Thursday night had to have the Bucs counting the days until the right-hander's return.

Start with the fact Morton dialed his fastball up to 97 mph. Prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, Morton's fastballs averaged in the mid-90s, tops.

"He was 92-to-97 [on Thursday]," Hurdle said, repeating for emphasis, "ninety-seven. It was very encouraging. A very good first step."

Morton's target was 50 pitches and he needed only 44 to get through three innings, so he made up the difference in a post-stint bullpen session.

"He was amped up," Hurdle said, scanning Meccage's report on his desk. "He settled down as he got more into it. The sinker had good, late life; the changeup came with very good arm-speed and sink. He threw just enough secondary pitches to complement the fastball."

In addition to the fastball speed, Morton's cutter ranged 86-90 mph, the breaking ball 78-81 and the change 87-89.

Morton had remarkable command, throwing strikes on 22 of 28 fastballs, four of five curves, one of two changeups and six of nine cutters.

This initial appearance started Morton's 30-day rehabilitation clock ticking.

Hurdle goes to lengths to sympathize with Marte

STL@PIT: Marte drives home Martin with RBI single

PITTSBURGH -- Clint Hurdle has a reputation as a player's manager, and he again proved willing to do anything to help one of his guys by claiming a dishonor he never suffered.

Starling Marte, whose 10-game hitting streak came to a harsh end Thursday night when he struck out on each of his five at-bats, was given Friday night off. To ease Marte's funk, Hurdle told him that he could relate.

"He's in select company now. Anyone who's ever struck out five times, raise your hand," Hurdle said, his right arm up in the air. "I'm there with him. That's the perspective I shared with him."

Except, Hurdle never struck out five times in one game. A good contact hitter throughout his playing career, Hurdle did have one four-strikeout game among the 515 he played -- on Sept. 24, 1978 against Twins right-hander Dave Goltz. But five? Never.

The misremembering did not lessen Hurdle's sympathy for the bad night by the left fielder who has been the lineup's biggest constant. Hurdle reminded Marte of that, too.

"Back away. Nice streak. You had a rough night, this is the Major Leagues," said Hurdle, relating the rest of his message to Marte. "We'll give him a [night], and get him back in there [Saturday]. I thought that was the best, most effective way to deal with it."

Jose Tabata led off and played left field in Friday night's game against Braves starter Tim Hudson, a right-hander. Lefty Paul Maholm, the former Pirates southpaw, is scheduled to start for Atlanta on Saturday night.

First number, last word

.176: Opponents collective batting average off Pirates relievers entering Friday night's game, the best in the Majors.

"It's all about mind-, body- and ball-control."
-- Jason Grilli, speaking in what he calls closer-esque style, on the ingredients for good relief pitching.

Worth noting

• Lefty Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes, who both worked 1 1/3 innings in Thursday night's game, were not available out of the Bucs' bullpen Friday night.

• Every fan is following the Orioles' streak of 17 consecutive extra-inning wins, the most recent Thursday night on Matt Wieters' grand slam. But not many may be aware that it is the longest such streak since the Pirates' 21 straight from June 1959 to July 1960.