Morton using rough start as motivation

Astros' starter yields 9 runs in 3 1/3 innings to Miami in final Grapefruit League outing

March 22nd, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Calling it a "disaster" and "just not good pitching," Astros right-hander Charlie Morton said his final start of the Grapefruit League season left him searching for answers in a rare bad performance by a Houston starting pitcher this spring.

Morton allowed nine runs and 11 hits and walked three batters in 3 1/3 innings in Thursday's 15-7 loss to the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The only good news Morton took from the outing is that he worked his pitch count up to 83 pitches, including 55 strikes.

"It's tough to pitch behind and it's tough to pitch when your fastball command is bad and your secondary pitches, you can't throw them for strikes," Morton said. "I'm glad I got my pitch count up, but I'd rather have gotten five ups and downs and thrown fewer pitches, or six ups and downs, than to get my pitch count up. I feel like that's where I struggle in Spring Training. I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand well, but everything else was awful."

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Morton will start Tuesday's exhibition game at Minute Maid Park against the Brewers before taking the ball on April 2 in Houston's home opener against Baltimore. Astros manager AJ Hinch said last week that he wanted Morton to get the ball in the home opener as a reward for his stellar 2017 season, which included pitching the final four innings of Game 7 of the World Series.

Hinch called it an "ugly day, all the way around."

"It wasn't a clean entry into the game, but he couldn't quite miss a bat or get them to hit it at somebody," Hinch said.

Morton, 34, had the best season of his career last year after coming to the Astros in a two-year, $14 million deal that raised eyebrows. Coming off a season in which he made just four starts (2016), he went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA, throwing 98 mph with sink. He's slotted to be the Astros' fifth starter in a deep rotation that includes , , and .

When he takes the ball on Tuesday, Morton said he's going to treat it as a regular-season start, in that he wants to get his pitch count up and get better results.

"I honestly do believe that having runners on and getting that experience in Spring Training can be a positive thing," Morton said. "I know it's not fun to be out there, and it's not fun to watch it. If I take anything from that, I'll get a little angry, have guys on and try to get locked in a little bit more than just going out there and having 1-2-3 innings.

"Ideally, yeah, I go out there and pitch great, but just trying to get that gear towards the ends of the spring that takes it to the real season. … Getting hit around that bad, that's something that gets me going a little bit, which I think is good."