Morton has Astros' faith, data behind him

March 3rd, 2017
Charlie Morton threw two scoreless innings during his first time out in more than 10 months. (AP)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Astros feel they have a find in veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, whom they guaranteed $14 million this winter. They've analyzed his pitch usage and mechanics, and feel he has the stuff to resurrect his career and become an impact member of their starting rotation.

On Friday afternoon at First Data Field, Morton took the mound in a game for the first time in 10 months -- since he tore his left hamstring running the bases while with the Phillies last April. He looked impressive for two scoreless innings in an 11-3 loss to the Mets and was hitting 94-96 mph.

"I didn't feel like I was working too hard," he said. "I felt I was staying within my delivery pretty well. That's the first time in 10 months. I'm sure there was a little amperage there I didn't even realize, but I felt good, I felt in control and felt I was around the zone for the most part, except for a couple."

Morton's career has been ravaged by injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2012. He's never made more than 30 starts or thrown more than 172 innings in his career, most of which has been spent with the Pirates. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said the team prioritized signing Morton because of his ability to manipulate movement, and the fact he brings a different look.

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"His profiles are different, his strengths are different -- sinker, curveball with a cutter," he said. "His velocity will creep up there in the low-to-mid 90s. He's a different look in our rotation than some of the other guys we have, but mostly because his stuff plays in the strike zone."

Morton, 33, generates a lot of ground balls, but he said won't rely on his sinker as much as he has in the past. He's struggled with lefties in his career (they hold a .307 average against him), but plans to use his curveball more and perhaps mix some cutters against them to get them off his sinker, which he says he was forcing.

He applauds the data-driven Astros for taking a closer look at his arsenal and how to use it more effectively. He understands the time, research and money the team has put into signing him, and is ready to remain healthy and to compete.

"For me, I can see why there is a game plan for me," he said. "I can see why you would shift in certain places [defensively], I can see why you would want me to throw different pitches to different hitters -- pitch usage and percentage. Those are valued numerically. That's hard data. That's something you can hang your hat on, so to speak. This is what I do well and this is how I can be a better pitcher because of that. I appreciate that."