Normal buildup could help Morton to quicker start

Braves' veteran hurler feels comfortable a year after a delayed and rushed Spring Training

March 11th, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Four months after breaking his leg during the 2021 World Series, accelerated through a condensed Spring Training and then experienced the potential pitfalls of not having a normal offseason.

Morton has never said the injury-restricted winter and shortened Grapefruit League season negatively impacted his inconsistent 2022. But the Braves’ 39-year-old veteran certainly feels more comfortable entering the upcoming season.

“Who knows how much my leg had to do with it,” Morton said. “Age? I don’t know. All I know is that when I step on the mound now, I feel pretty good.”

Morton took another step toward the regular season as he threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings in a 16-7 loss to the Tigers on Saturday afternoon at CoolToday Park. The Atlanta hurler pitched around two walks and ’ error during the second inning. Instead of potentially encountering a long plate appearance, he was lifted four pitches shy of his targeted pitch count of 60.

Overall, Morton allowed one hit and three walks and struck out three.

“I like to run into a little trouble,” Morton said. “When the spring goes too smoothly, it feels good because you’re competitive. But it’s good to run into some problems. It’s kind of like a wakeup call.”

This start also introduced Morton to pitching from the stretch with the pitch timer. His only previous Grapefruit League start this year occurred on March 5, when a home run accounted for the only Yankee to reach base over 2 2/3 innings. He also pitched a couple of innings against Minor League hitters during the final week of February.

Morton will have time to make three more Grapefruit League starts. To put that in perspective, he pitched on the back fields twice and made just two starts in actual exhibition games leading into last season.

Morton fractured his right fibula when he was hit by a comebacker in Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. He recovered in time to throw side sessions and some live batting practice before coming to Braves camp last year. A lockout pushed the start of Spring Training to the middle of March, a little more than three weeks before the start of the regular season.

“One of my first games last year was on the back fields,” Morton said. “Pitching coach [Rick Kranitz] came up to me after the first inning and said I was [throwing] 94-97 [mph]. I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m fine.’ But until that endurance strength gets tested and you have to go out and start throwing five, six and seven innings every time out, you don’t know.”

Morton posted a 4.34 ERA over 31 starts last year, his highest ERA in a season with at least 10 starts since 2015. But it should be noted that he had a 6.85 ERA through his first five starts and a 3.94 ERA over the remaining 26.

It’s hard to consider Morton’s 2022 season a disappointment considering he notched his fourth 200-strikeout season with 205 and produced his third-highest innings total (172). But the numbers he produced after the season’s first month create reason to wonder how much better he might have been had his offseason been as normal as this one.

Getting Wright
remained on schedule after he threw 33 pitches during a live batting practice session on Friday. Wright will likely throw two or three innings against Minor Leaguers next week, just to allow the Braves to govern the pace of his work. If the right-hander’s pitching shoulder continues to react positively, he will have time to make two Grapefruit League starts and face Minor Leaguers one more time before making a targeted season debut in St. Louis.

“My shoulder felt good,” Wright said. “I probably could have executed better. I thought the second inning was a lot better than the first. That makes me feel good.”

Wright came to camp behind schedule because he rested for three weeks in January after receiving a cortisone shot in his shoulder. He has repeatedly said the shoulder feels better than it has during any of the past three seasons, including last year when he was MLB’s only 20-game winner.

Ozzie’s first
It’s too early to get excited or concerned about Spring Training results. But Albies certainly breathed a sigh of relief when he hit a three-run homer off Tigers right-hander Matt Manning on Saturday. Albies is 2-for-15 (0-for-3 as a right-handed hitter). But the good news is that he hasn’t had any problems with his surgically repaired right shoulder.