“Until he’s not, I feel like he is,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after being asked if Morton should be projected to be on the Opening Day roster.
Morton has made great strides over the past couple months, and he truly opened some eyes when he threw approximately 40 pitches and simulated three innings on Wednesday morning at CoolToday Park. The veteran right-hander showed no limitations as he pitched to Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson and Austin Riley.
“That was really good for his psyche and everything else,” Snitker said. “I thought the ball was coming out really well. He continues to amaze me.”
Coming into camp, the Braves were encouraged by the reports they had received, but they weren’t sure what to truly expect from Morton, who fractured his right fibula when he was hit by a comebacker during the second inning of Game 1 of the World Series.
Morton spent the weeks leading up to Spring Training completing his recovery and making normal preseason preparations. The 38-year-old hurler completed bullpen sessions and threw a couple of live batting practice sessions against Austin Meadows and other players training in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.
When the Braves' camp began on Sunday, Morton had already conditioned himself to throw three innings. He should have time to make at least three starts during the exhibition season.
“We’re going to be smart about it, but I would expect I’m going to be able to do what is required of me,” Morton said. “I think I’m in a good spot.”
Morton is certainly in a better spot than he was on Oct. 26, when his lower right leg was drilled by a 102.4 mph Yuli Gurriel comebacker. The veteran hurler recorded three more outs before exiting with a fractured fibula.
After completing the second inning, Morton received treatment in the dugout and felt he could continue by slightly altering his landing. But as he struck out Jose Altuve to begin the third inning, he felt enhanced pain, caused by the detachment of the compromised bone.
Was Morton surprised he recorded an additional three outs after being hit?
“It doesn’t boggle my mind,” Morton said. “It definitely felt like there was something really wrong. But it wasn’t until the bone actually separated that I was like, ‘Now we’re risking other things.’ I was able to protect it. I would go down the [mound], finish my delivery and instead of rolling my ankle like I normally do, I just kind of lifted my foot off the ground and not really torque that bone.
“But that pitch to ‘Tuve, it was a two-strike pitch and I was trying to strike him out. I was way more worried about the pitch. That’s when I felt the bone.”
Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson are projected to head the Braves' rotation. The club could benefit from the addition of another experienced starter. But as things stand, Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa, Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson are the top candidates for the rotation’s final two spots.