Pirates release struggling right-hander Morris

PITTSBURGH -- Matt Morris, the veteran right-hander added by the Pittsburgh Pirates late last season to stabilize a young rotation, was released Sunday after failing to pitch past the second inning in his latest start.

Morris fell to 0-4 with a 9.67 ERA after giving up six runs, three earned, and six hits in 1 2/3 innings during an 8-4 loss to the Phillies on Saturday night.

The decision to cut him will cost the Pirates more than $10 million, besides what they already have paid him this season. Morris is making $9.5 million, or about one-fifth of the Pirates' payroll, and has a $1 million buyout for 2009.

"Matt Morris is a true professional," manager John Russell said. "He's had a great career. He wanted to help us win, but it just wasn't working out."

Team president Frank Coonelly was disappointed the Pirates added a salary as big as Morris' not long before Coonelly joined the club from Major League Baseball's central office late last season. Former general manager Dave Littlefield, who dealt for Morris, was fired about a month after he acquired Morris from the Giants.

"The decision to acquire Matt Morris last July did not turn out to be a sound baseball judgment," Coonelly said in a statement issued by the team. "Ownership's willingness to acquire Matt's contract ... demonstrated ownership's commitment to fielding a championship team. I am confident that the investments that we are now making in this club will be far more productive."

Morris is 121-92 with a 3.98 ERA in 11 seasons, mostly with the Cardinals. He was a career-best 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 2001 and averaged nearly 16 wins per season with St. Louis from 2001-05.

The 33-year-old Morris was ineffective in all five starts this season, unable to throw with much velocity or to locate his breaking pitches. He was chased early in each of his final three starts, surrendering 22 hits and 20 runs, 17 earned, in 10 1/3 innings against the Dodgers, Marlins and Phillies.

"It's been difficult," Morris said. "I could feel it all coming to an end in a hurry. It's not what I planned, but it's best for the organization, best for the team. I've been a burden on the bullpen. It's been hard to deal with mentally."

In slightly less than three months with the Pirates, including the final two months of last season, Morris was 3-8 in 16 starts with a 7.04 ERA.

Morris is aware the decision likely ends his career.

"I've accepted it," he said. "It was a great segment of my life. I really can't wait to move on and be with my family. It's a sad day, but it's also a joyful day. ... I'm proud of my career. I didn't mean or want for it to end this way. I've always said the other team will let you know when you're done."

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, "Matt is, on and off the field, what we want our guys to be."

After Morris' poor start Saturday night, Russell said it was too early to decide what the team should do with Morris. The Pirates subsequently determined they couldn't keep using a pitcher who hasn't lasted longer than 4 2/3 innings in his last three starts.

Morris and his full salary were picked up from San Francisco in a trading deadline deal on July 31. The idea was that Morris, who had been 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA with the Giants, would prop up a Pirates rotation in which every other starter was 25 or younger.

Morris never settled in with the Pirates. His velocity was down considerably this season -- his fastball often topped out at 85 or 86 mph -- and he repeatedly had trouble keeping his pitches down in the strike zone.

Left-hander Phil Dumatrait (0-1, 3.92 ERA), picked up from the Reds on waivers after last season, will move into the rotation Thursday at Washington. Dumatrait relieved Morris on Saturday night and allowed one earned run in four innings.

To replace Morris on the 25-man roster, right-hander
John Van Benschoten was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and will go into the bullpen at least temporarily.