Pirates 4, Blue Jays 1

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The competition is heating up for the fifth spot in the rotation. And that’s a really encouraging thing. You might remember that last year it became a matter of who wasn’t going to pitch themselves out of the spot. Kevin Hart had a terrible spring, and Daniel McCutchen – kind of by default — slid into the fifth spot to begin the season.

Though Scott Olsen hasn’t gotten on the mound yet, Brad Lincoln and Charlie Morton are putting their best foot forward through two outings apiece.

“They both want to pitch in the big leagues,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They both want to put a foot down. They both feel they have something to prove. They want rebound seasons. They’re both healthy. Pitching is contagious.”

Morton has looked really sharp — and confident, too. Anyone who watched him pitch last year knows how important that confidence is. You can read more on a separate story on the main site, but it appears that Morton’s solid start has a lot to do with him using his sinker again.

Morton didn’t point any fingers, but he noted that he stopped throwing the sinker altogether last season. The right-hander didn’t have to place the blame on anyone, though it’s known that the decision to take the pitch away from Morton was Joe Kerrigan’s. How much the absence of the pitch had to do with Morton’s momentous struggles is something we’ll never quite know. But you have to believe that it played a significant role.

With that sinker working already, Morton is in a much better place than he was a year ago.

He was so efficient, too, on Thursday (25 pitches; 19 strikes) that he had to go to the bullpen to throw some more pitches after his three innings were up.

***

Credit Lincoln with an efficient and effective outing, too. On paper, Lincoln was scheduled to throw two innings. He needed only 19 pitches to get through those two frames and he came out for a third inning. Lincoln finished that inning with no trouble, too.

Lincoln retired all nine hitters he faced and allowed only one ball to get out of the infield.

“Brad was very good today,” Hurdle said. “Much better with his command than his first time out. The ball was coming out of his hand a little more crisper. He had some sink to the ball. He pitched very efficiently as well.”

Lincoln certainly appears on a mission.

***

Catcher Jason Jaramillo was rewarded with being aggressive in Thursday’s win — and be sure that Hurdle noticed the hustle. Jaramillo popped a ball up in front of the plate for what should have been a fairly easy grab for the catcher. Well, should have been…

The ball ended up landing on the grass between home plate and the mound. And by the time it did, Jaramillo was on second. He hustled all the way out of the batter’s box.

“Most hitters hit that ball and they’re disappointed in the at-bat,” noted Hurdle. “Will that ball be dropped all the time? No. But the one time it is, you need to be on second. That’s what we’ve encouraged them. He was there. How good does it look when he’s on second?”

Credit Steve Pearce with showing some aggression, too. Pearce tried to stretch a single to left-center into a two-base hit in his second at-bat. From the press box, it looked like Pearce did beat out the throw. The umpire said otherwise, but it’s good to see him taking such chances.

***

You can find the rest of the day’s content on pirates.com early this evening. There will be an in-depth look at the relationship Neil Walker and Bill Mazeroski have forged this spring — with a focus on how much this is going to benefit Walker’s defense. There will also be short items on Morton’s sinker, Hurdle’s strong statement about the starters and Jeremy Farrell’s chance to play in front of Dad.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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