PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton is not yet in crisis mode. But the right-hander's rope is getting shorter, and he is aware of having to regain his confidence to avoid becoming the odd man out when Jeff Karstens is ready to rejoin the rotation.

Morton took his sixth loss, tying for most in the National League, in Tuesday night's start, in many respects the poorest of his nine. Reverting to last season, he has won only three of his last 17 starts. With hip surgery for a torn labrum in between, manager Clint Hurdle remains hopeful the veteran righty is still working his way through some mental roadblocks.

"The velocity is not where it was last year, but we expected that. Sometimes, you subconsciously hold back," Hurdle said. "We're trying to keep him open minded about what he is feeling; I talked to him earlier today. He has to trust his delivery, and not try to create more movement [on the pitch] by altering his delivery."

In the start against the Reds, Morton lasted only four innings and allowed four runs, raising his ERA to 4.65. Uncharacteristically, only four of his 12 outs came on the ground, and he failed to register a strikeout for the second time in four starts.

"I think if I was being more aggressive with my sinker, the results might have been different," Morton said. "Some of it was pitch selection, most of it was poor execution.

"I need to get back to where I'm in a groove, and I feel that the ball is coming out decently. For me, confidence doesn't necessarily come from results, but from a feel. I'm confident I'll figure something out the next time I throw."

That next outing will again come against the Reds -- who have already beaten Morton twice -- in Cincinnati on Tuesday.

The shadow is cast by Karstens, who is set to go five innings or 80 pitches in a rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday. Although Hurdle emphasized that Karstens' comeback from shoulder inflammation is being handled on a day-by-day basis, the natural escalation of the pitch counts in his rehab starts suggests he will make one more following Thursday night's.

Bucs' rich '08 Draft haul on full display in finale

PITTSBURGH -- A week before the 2012 First-Year Player Draft would be wrapping up, the Pirates' Wednesday night lineup against the Reds could have been considered a reminder of the importance of that annual disbursement of amateur players.

The 2008 Draft was well represented in the Bucs' starting lineup against the Reds. Around the horn, you had third baseman Pedro Alvarez (the first-round pick and overall No. 2 choice that June), shortstop Jordy Mercer (third round) and first baseman Matt Hague (ninth round). The guy in between was 2004 first-round pick Neil Walker, at second.

Andrew McCutchen, the club's first-round pick the year after Walker, patrolled center field.

The newcomer, obviously, was Mercer, who made his first Major League start the night after debuting in the almost-obligatory pinch-hitting role. After bouncing out to short in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 8-1 loss, Mercer promptly recorded his first big league hit in the first inning of Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Reds. He followed that up by making a nice play in the field on a line drive that had changed course after being deflected off the ankle of starter A.J. Burnett.

"You almost have to get that first at-bat out of the way, so they can process the adrenaline," said manager Clint Hurdle, who made it a point to get Mercer on the field before the club wrapped up its homestand. "I'm looking ahead to seeing him out there."

Josh Harrison, 0-for-10 since the end of his 10-game hitting streak, and regular shortstop Clint Barmes, on an extended timeout to work on his bat stroke, both sat out Wednesday. That marked the season's first game without one or the other as the starting shortstop.

Worth noting

• Pirates baseball: They scored seven runs in the three-game series against the Reds, the 2.3 average even below their low season average -- and won two of the games.

• The Reds had hit town having totaled 20 homers in their previous nine games. No balls left PNC Park, as Cincinnati went three consecutive games without a home run for the first time since May 9-12. However, those three games were against two different teams; the last club to contain the Reds through a three-game series was Washington, on April 12-15.

• Off on Thursday, the Pirates finished May with a record of 15-13, their first winning record in the month since the identical set in 2008.

Last word

"One of the things A.J. looked forward to was coming here to be the guy. There are places you can't go to and be the guy because they already have guys."
--Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on A.J. Burnett, who was attracted to Pittsburgh by the opportunity to both pitch and lead.