BOSTON -- Overlooked and undervalued by outsiders much of the year, Charlie Morton is now readying to showcase his worth to these Astros in front of a national audience.The right-hander has been tapped to start against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the best-of-five American League Division Series presented
BOSTON -- Overlooked and undervalued by outsiders much of the year, Charlie Morton is now readying to showcase his worth to these Astros in front of a national audience.
The right-hander has been tapped to start against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the best-of-five American League Division Series presented by Doosan, set for Monday at Fenway Park with Houston carrying a 2-1 series lead and looking to clinch. Boston will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello.
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"It's the playoffs. This is the biggest game I'll throw in all year," Morton said, "so I'm really excited about it. I'm excited to be here in Boston and pitch at Fenway against the Red Sox."
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Houston took a two-year, $14 million flyer on Morton last winter, and the veteran pitcher has thus made good on the pact, and then some. Morton enjoyed a regular season better than any of the injury-plagued nine years that preceded it, winning a career-high 14 games to match a tidy 3.62 ERA.
This speaks to perhaps an underappreciated aspect of manager A.J. Hinch's club, which he addressed Sunday.
"We're rolling out a pretty good player in a lot of different spots, and they're not all big names, and they're not all big-paycheck guys," Hinch said. "These are guys that we utilize their strengths hopefully as well as anybody in the league."
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Hinch pointed to Game 3 starter Brad Peacock as an example. Morton certainly falls under this category as well, when examining the landscape of Houston's strong depth.
There is rain in the forecast Monday, and a rainout would allow Hinch to potentially alter the rotation, but as of now, Morton is ready to take the ball. The 33-year-old worked 146 2/3 innings during the regular season, missing six weeks with a right lat strain. The man who has endured operations on both of his hips, right elbow and left hamstring in a six-year span proved otherwise durable, making it through at least five innings in each of his 25 starts.
A ground-ball specialist for the majority of his career, Morton got plenty this year, albeit at his lowest rate since 2010, finishing with a 52.8 percentage, which was still the fourth-best mark among AL pitchers. However, he traded a few in for the strikeout, throwing harder than ever and averaging 95 mph on his fastball, up from his career average of 92 mph.
Morton obliterated his pre-existing career-high strikeout total, shattering his previous best of 126 (2014) with 163. He also posted career bests in opponents average (.228) and WHIP (1.19), and his .175 opponents average opposite left-handed batsmen was lowest in the Major Leagues among right-handed starters.
"We have all the confidence in the world in him," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said. "He's been great for us at the back end."
Morton has one career postseason start under his belt, a loss to St. Louis as a Pirate in Game 4 of the 2013 National League Division Series. He pitched well, though, getting through 5 2/3 innings with just two runs and three hits allowed on the big stage.
His history with the Red Sox only goes so far as two starts, but his latest came fewer than two weeks ago on Sept. 29. Morton capped a strong September with a win, holding the Red Sox to two runs and four hits across 5 1/3 innings. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter.
"We all know any team in the big leagues is dangerous," Morton said, "and this is a really, really good team."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.