BRADENTON, Fla. -- Charlie Morton had only one thought as he stood on the mound at Pirate City and prepared to throw to a batter for the first time since May 29.

"I thought about having lunch with my wife in Pensacola the day before I went in for the surgery," Morton said. "We had oysters."

Morton's 12-pitch batting practice to Pirates Minor Leaguers filled the soul, if not the stomach. As he left the mound, the smile through his sweat-drenched face said it all.

The 29-year-old right-hander also put into words the big step away from June 10 Tommy John surgery, saying, "It was fun. I wasn't nervous at all, which surprised me. I just didn't feel that removed from the whole experience."

Morton had already thrown numerous bullpens, and called Monday's outing "bullpen, with batters." He threw only four-seam fastballs, a slight departure from the original plan to have him make 20 pitches, including five changeups.

"We just wanted to be cautious," said Jim Benedict, the pitching maven and special assistant to GM Neal Huntington who oversaw Morton's drill. "It's a progression. It's a combination of physical and mental rehab. Physically, he's way ahead, and he's got to go through different mental stages.

"Next time out, we'll progress to the 20, and mix in some [curves] and changeups."

The general timetable is for Morton to perhaps be ready to return to competition around the anniversary of his elbow operation.

Jones feels no oblique discomfort

BRADENTON, Fla. -- On Tuesday, all of the Pirates will be doing what Garrett Jones has done the last five days.

Nothing.

With a break in their Grapefruit League schedule, the Bucs get the day completely off and Jones gets another day closer to returning to action.

Sidelined last Thursday by tightness in his left side, Jones on Monday reported not feeling any discomfort for the first time when he tests the area of the oblique by coughing.

He went through a measured workout at McKechnie Field, taking dry swings and ground balls, and playing catch.

"It'll be good to slowly get back into it," Jones said.

Worth noting

• New leader atop the totem pole of impressive relief candidates? Phil Irwin struck out seven in 3 2/3 innings on Monday -- going one out longer than starter Jeff Locke -- giving him nine strikeouts in eight innings, and manager Clint Hurdle's attention.

"We like what we've seen," Hurdle said of the 26-year-old righty who, much like Gerrit Cole, stepping-stoned through the farm system from Class A to Triple-A last season, but spent most of it with Double-A Altoona. "He's in contention for numerous situations."

Irwin, a 21st-round pick in 2009, has pitched almost exclusively as a starter in the Minors but, Hurdle said, "You can only start so many guys."

• Jeff Karstens (biceps tendinitis) threw a "routine bullpen" on Monday and is scheduled to make his spring pitching debut in a Minor League exhibition on Wednesday.

• Chase d'Arnaud was scheduled for a late-afternoon MRI on Monday on the sprained left thumb he suffered during rundown drills Friday.

"It doesn't feel as tight as it did before," d'Arnaud said, holding up a left hand wrapped in a fat ice pack.

• In pregame ceremonies, Miguel Bonilla, pitching coach for the Bucs' Gulf Coast League club, was awarded the third annual Chuck Tanner Award, which goes to a Minor League staffer who best exemplifies the former Pirates manager's optimism, work ethic and leadership. The first two recipients had been Mike Lum and Tom Prince.

• The May 4 game at PNC Park against the Nationals has been changed from a 7:05 p.m. to a 4:05 p.m. ET start to accommodate FOX's national telecast. As a result, the scheduled Zambelli Fireworks had to be cancelled with the earlier start.