Duke prepares for rehab assignment
Walker could return Saturday; Tabata plays through soreness
PITTSBURGH -- Zach Duke tossed 46 pitches in a side session Friday, and manager John Russell is hoping that, if all goes well, his left-hander will make the first of two rehab starts with Double-A Altoona on Monday before rejoining the Pirates after the All-Star break.
Duke, who has been on the disabled list since June 23 with a left elbow flexor pronator strain, said he felt no discomfort in his elbow during the session, which was his first from the mound since the injury.
Russell also remained optimistic that second baseman Neil Walker could play Saturday, though he said that's a decision he cannot make before seeing how Walker responds to Friday's infield work and batting practice. He has not played since suffering a concussion June 25 after colliding with Ryan Church during a fly-ball play in Oakland.
Rookie left fielder Jose Tabata, meanwhile, said his left hand still hurts when he squeezes the bat while swinging, but he still led off Friday for the Pirates.
Tabata suffered the injury when he was caught stealing in the fourth inning Thursday, as Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins accidentally stepped on Tabata's left hand while making the tag on the outside part of second base.
Morton back from DL, optioned to Triple-A
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have taken right-hander Charlie Morton off the disabled list, but he is not on his way back to Pittsburgh. Morton has been optioned to Triple-A, meaning that he'll stay in Indianapolis, where he has been on a Minor League rehab assignment for nearly a month.
Morton was placed on the DL in late May with what was described as right shoulder fatigue. He spent time rehabbing his shoulder and working with a sports psychologist in Bradenton, Fla., before joining the Triple-A club. At the time of the injury, Morton was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts with the Pirates.
In five Indianapolis rehab starts, Morton combined to allow 13 earned runs on 28 hits and 10 walks in 27 innings. He struck out 21. Morton had his best outing on June 24, when he allowed one run and two hits in a complete-game effort. However, when the right-hander returned to the mound on Tuesday, he was chased after just 3 1/3 innings.
Prior to Morton's last start, the Pirates had been considering him as a possible option to fill in while Zach Duke is sidelined with an elbow injury. It seems, though, that with Daniel McCutchen's strong spot start on Thursday and Morton's recent struggles, Pittsburgh is going to stick with McCutchen until Duke returns after the All-Star break.
"Charlie's health has returned to a point where he is prepared to come off the disabled list, but we did not see a good fit on the Major League roster at the present time," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We believe he will be a quality Major League starting pitcher again for us in the future, but as we weighed our options with respect to Charlie, we determined the best course of action was to option him and continue his development at Triple-A."
Morton's next scheduled start with Indianapolis will come Sunday.
-- Jenifer Langosch
Russell praises former battery mate Moyer
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager John Russell might know a little bit more about Friday's visiting pitcher than he does others.
That's because Russell caught three of left-hander Jamie Moyer's 10 starts in 1990, when the two played for the Rangers.
"It's fun. We were talking about it yesterday, because I was talking to Jamie in the field, and some guys asked me if I faced him," Russell said. "I actually caught him. It's kind of fun. He's a totally different guy than he was back then, so I'm not really going to give any scouting reports other than what we've seen in the past and what he's shown us on the scouting report. But he's pretty special. To do what he's doing, that's phenomenal."
The 47-year-old Moyer made his 625th career start Friday night for the Phillies. In three starts with Russell behind the plate, Moyer was 1-1, with the highlight being a complete game, three-hit win over the Blue Jays on Aug. 3, 1990, Moyer's 99th career start. It marked Moyer's only complete game of that season, and the seventh of his career at the time.
"He's phenomenal," Russell said of Moyer. "He's the epitome of work. He keeps himself obviously in great shape, is very limber and he's a technician on the mound. He knows what he's doing, he read swings, he's got a multitude of ways he can deliver the ball, as far as speed, movement. Again, I think he's a great technician of the game. Really does a good job of knowing what he wants to do. He's having a good year."
Dotel keeps sharp despite few opportunities
PITTSBURGH -- Octavio Dotel probably didn't think it would take until July 1 to record 17 saves. But losing streaks of 12 and six games in June kept the Pirates' closer out of action longer than he is used to.
Dotel has been a full-time closer in five of his 12 Major League seasons, and he had not gone six consecutive games between appearances in any of those five seasons until last month. He did not pitch from June 7-12 and, when he finally did take the hill on June 13, he gave up a two-run home run in the eighth inning to blow his third save of the season and help extend his club's slide.
"It's hard sometimes when you have a long time without throwing in tough situations, like a closing role," Dotel said. "And then when you take five, six, seven days without facing guys, it's really hard. But this game is more mentality than physically, and I think I'm just trying to be really, really strong mentality-wise."
Manager John Russell made sure his closer saw action as the streak continued, sending Dotel in to pitch the ninth innings of losses to the White Sox and Indians on June 15 and June 18. Dotel then closed the door on Cleveland the next two days to pick up consecutive saves, but Pittsburgh lost its next six games, sidelining Dotel further.
Dotel came in again to end a loss, Saturday in Oakland, before the Pirates won three of their last four games. He recorded the save in each of those three wins, and he is happy to finally be back in a rhythm.
"Over the years I'm just learning that year by year, every day, you're learning something in this game," Dotel said. "It doesn't matter how many years you can have in this game, you're always going to learn something. Every day, every year you will learn something here in this game."
Chris Jakubauskas suffered a strain of his right hip flexor on Thursday and will be shut down for at least a week. As a result, the Pirates have ended his rehab assignment. Jakubauskas was struck in the head by a line drive April 24. ... Steve Pearce sat out Thursday and Friday because of left knee soreness. He might need to have an MRI done on that knee, according to the Pirates. Pearce remains on his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, though his initial injury (sprained right ankle) is giving him no problems. ... Starling Marte will begin his rehab process Saturday with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. Marte had surgery in mid-May after fracturing his left hamate bone. At the time of the injury, Marte was expected to miss 8-10 weeks. The Pirates plan to have him play for about a week before determining the next course of action. ... Class A Bradenton's Eric Fryer was hit in the face by a pitch Thursday and sustained some orbital fractures. He is scheduled to see a specialist Tuesday. ... The Pirates agreed to terms Friday with 16th-round selection Matt Curry, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound first baseman from Texas Christian. The Pirates have now signed 15 of their 2010 Draft picks. ... Right-handed pitcher Hayden Penn was named Triple-A Indianapolis' Player of the Month for June. Penn won four games in June, posting a 1.89 ERA while striking out 32 batters and walking only nine over 33 1/3 innings pitched. ... The Pirates and every other Major League team wore special "Stars & Stripes" caps Friday and will continue to do so throughout the weekend. Major League Baseball Properties will donate all of the proceeds it receives from the sale of the caps to Welcome Back Veterans, a program that addresses the needs of returning American veterans and their families.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.