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Astros beat Pirates 14-2 in tough day for guys named Charlie

Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In their worst loss of the spring, the Pirates surrendered 17 hits from the Houston Astros, most of which came against Charlie Morton, who gave up seven runs and 10 hits in his 4 1/3 innings. Morton threw 79 pitches (49 for strikes), struck out two, and didn't walk anybody.

Morton survived the first inning by means of ground balls from the first two Astros hitters, Jose Altuve and George Springer, and a fly to center by Luis Valbuena. In the second, though, Chris Carter and Jed Lowrie reached on singles, and when Colby Rasmus hit a hard grounder to first, a wide throw to second by Pedro Alvarez pulled Mercer away from the bag and prevented what might have been a double play. At that point, Morton began elevating the ball, and a triple by Jonathan Villar and a sacrifice fly by Hank Conger gave the Astros a 3-0 lead. Old friend Alex Presley added a triple of his own, but was stranded when Jose Altuve grounded out to end the inning.

The Astros added a run in the bottom of the third. Morton fell behind Carter 3-1, fooled him with an offspeed pitch for strike two, then threw a meatball that Carter effortlessly lofted over the fence in right center. Carter added a double in the fifth, completing three-fourths of the cycle against Charlie in five innings.

The Pirates, meanwhile, were able to do little against two pitchers vying for the fifth starter spot with the Astros, Roberto Hernandez and Dan Straily. Both pitched well as the Pirates managed only five hits against them.

The Pirates scored a small-ball run in the fourth off Hernandez on a hard-hit infield single by Polanco, a wild pitch, a deep fly to center by Tony Sanchez, and a run-scoring grounder to first by Alvarez. The Astros answered with a line-drive homer to right from Colby Rasmus in the bottom of the fourth, and then put the game away as they batted around in the bottom of the fifth with eight runs on eight hits off Morton and Charlie Leesman, who relieved with one out. Leesman yielded six runs, six hits, and a wild pitch in his two-thirds of an inning and contributed to throwing errors by Mercer and Polanco by twice neglecting to back up home on throws to the plate.

Mercer homered in the sixth, his second of the spring, for the Bucs' second run. Also on the positive side of the ledger, John Holdzkom looked great striking out L.J. Hoes looking and getting two pop-ups in the sixth, with an easy, fluid motion and overpowering heat. Clint left Holdzkom in to pitch a second inning and, after one out, back to back doubles by Max Stassi (Starling Marte would have caught it, but Andrew Lambo did not) and Gregorio Petit resulted in yet another Astros run.

Two innings later, James Hoyt struck out the side for the Astros in the top of the ninth, putting a merciful end to a tough day for the Buccos.