PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton doesn't feel better or worse than he did the last time he pitched in a Major League game. He's just glad his arm doesn't hurt anymore.
Almost one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Morton will make his 2013 debut Thursday against the Giants.
Morton said the most emotional part of his rehab came after his first bullpen session and then his first rehab start April 8 in extended spring training, when he knew his return was becoming reality. But still, it's hard not to have some feelings taking the mound at PNC Park for the first time in more than a year.
"You can't escape emotion," Morton said. "I'm going to be nervous. I'm going to be excited, emotions that anyone would feel."
Morton is starting in place of Wandy Rodriguez, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm strain. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is excited to see the righty in action, because it's difficult to evaluate him just on film.
"If we can go get the Charlie that we had in the first half of the season in 2011, we'll take that in a bottle and roll," Hurdle said. Morton went 7-4 with a 3.77 ERA in his first 14 starts that season and finished at 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA.
But with Rodriguez set to return later this month, there's no guarantee Morton is in the rotation for good, although Hurdle won't worry about that until the time comes.
"I don't know," Hurdle said when asked if Thursday is a spot start for Morton. "We'll just figure out as we go. I don't need to make those decisions now for a group. I think we need to give Charlie an opportunity to go pitch and that will help us make our decision."
Morton made four rehab starts for Triple-A Indianapolis and nine total. He said preparing the same way before each game helps him get back into a rhythm, but when he takes the mound Thursday, that could all go out the window.
He'll have to adjust on the fly to what the game hands him.
"The game never goes the way you think it will," Morton said. "You set yourself up as best as possible for that chaos."
Cole scheduled to face Dodgers in next start
PITTSBURGH -- Immediately after Gerrit Cole had assumed the role of a Major League pitcher, he wasn't about to assume anything else. Asked in the aftermath of his ballyhooed debut whether he was already looking forward to making his second start under more sedate circumstances, Cole played the diplomatic card.
"We got a lot of others looking to get in there. ... Charlie Morton is here, and James McDonald is getting ready," Cole said, "so I'll just get to the park tomorrow and take care of my business and see where we go from there."
Like Cole was going to go anywhere but back on the PNC Park mound following his boffo bow, in which he blanked the Giants into the seventh before settling for an 8-2 victory.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle confirmed the obvious Wednesday afternoon, that Cole will remain in his regular rotation and face the Dodgers on Sunday, in the finale of this six-game homestand.
Cole will be matched up against the third former Cy Young Award winner the Bucs will have faced during the stand, Zack Greinke. On Tuesday, he got the best of Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito started for San Francisco in Wednesday's game.
So in a few days, he'll get going on the body of his big league novel. Tuesday night's prologue was, to use one of his own favorite expressions, pretty cool. Cole celebrated with about 20 relatives, including his parents, and friends before returning to his hotel room, to fight to try to get some sleep.
When Hurdle got to the yard at about 12:30 in the afternoon, he found Cole already there.
"That didn't surprise me," the manager said. "He was pretty jazzed up."
Bucs understand Giants' reaction to plunking
PITTSBURGH -- Tempers flared at PNC Park on Tuesday night, but it never materialized into anything more than that.
Pirates reliever Tony Watson hit Marco Scutaro on the hand with an inside fastball in the seventh, and the Giants second baseman left the game. He was diagnosed with a mallet finger Wednesday and could miss up to two months. Buster Posey then came to the plate as the tying run with the Giants trailing by three before Vin Mazzaro got him to ground out to short.
"When one of their best hitters has to leave the game, that creates angst on their side," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I understand that."
San Francisco reliever George Kontos then threw behind Starling Marte in the eighth and plunked Andrew McCutchen two batters later. Kontos was ejected and optioned to Triple-A Fresno on Wednesday, then suspended three games. Manager Bruce Bochy was also ejected and suspended one game. But nothing more came of it.
A few hours later, however, the Dodgers and D-backs' game of beanball escalated and resulted in six ejections, two bench clearings, a melee and possible suspensions.
"You don't go asking for it," Hurdle said. "But there are times I do believe your team needs to stand up, take a stand, but you can try to do that professionally without going rogue."
The "rogue" aspect the Pirates skipper referred to was throwing up and in to retaliate. Ian Kennedy drilled Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig in the nose with a fastball. Zack Greinke then plunked Arizona catcher Miguel Montero in the back before Kennedy hit Greinke in the shoulder. McCutchen was hit in the rear end.
The Pirates center fielder didn't mind being hit, though, and is just focused on playing the game.
"They needed to do what they needed to do," he said. "All I care about is winning, so I'm on base and guess what? Now I can score. That's what I think about.
"Feel better about yourself?" McCutchen added. "Good, now let's play the next game."
Hurdle said the answer for some teams is to go rogue, and throughout the season, tensions build. It's difficult to avoid confrontation for 162 games.
"Sometimes at the end of the day, rogue is the answer for that particular team," Hurdle said. "To get angst out, to get frustrations out, whatever they need to get out."
• Pittsburgh responded to Cole's debut with a crowd of 30,614 -- the largest PNC Park Tuesday crowd since last July 24, when 32,497 saw the Cubs. This season's first three Tuesday dates had averaged crowds of 13,500.
• Jared Hughes said he is improving daily and admitted his shoulder was getting progressively worse for a while before the Pirates finally put him on the DL on Saturday with inflammation in the joint.
• To Hurdle, McDonald's latest rehab start just showed how much work remains before he can be considered for a return to the rotation. McDonald allowed eight hits and five runs in six innings with Indianapolis on Tuesday, but Hurdle was more focused on the fact he retired only eight batters on three pitches or less, and the lack of variance in the velocities of his off-speed pitches, with all three (slider, curve, change) in the 73-80 mph range.
"That's not good enough," Hurdle said of the dearth of quick outs, "and you want more separation in the off-speed pitches. More improvements need to be made."
• What do Steamboat Struss, Oad Swigart and Cole have in common? They are the only pitchers in Pirates history (post-1915) to have two RBIs in their big league debuts. Struss did it in 1934, in a loss to the Cubs in his only Major League game. Swigart did it in 1939, in a loss to the Dodgers. That makes Cole the only one to do it in a winning effort.
First number, last word
7-0: Pirates' record this season following an off-day ... yet they are 0-13 in the openers of all of their other series.
"F-minus. He got part of it right, but I kind of winced when he did it." -- Neil Walker, on the "Z" flashed by Cole after he delivered a two-run single to help himself in his Major League debut Tuesday night.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.