ATLANTA -- Had this been his roughest start of the season, it might have been a little easier for Charlie Morton to brush off the frustration he felt during the disastrous six-run first that doomed the Braves in a 12-2 loss to the Phillies on Friday night at Truist Park.
But that’s not the way Morton has ever operated, even on a night when each of the six runs he surrendered was unearned. The 37-year-old veteran was unable to complete the first inning for just the second time in his career and he was more than willing to bear the blame, despite the fact things would have been different had rookie catcher William Contreras secured a third strike.
“When I'm just trying to evaluate, I'm trying to be objective, but at the same time, it's getting very frustrating,” Morton said. “The organization brought me in so I can go out and do a job and do it well. I'm not doing that, so it's very frustrating especially to not get results.”
Morton surrendered a three-run homer to Odúbel Herrera, who entered the night 4-for-30, and then ended his forgettable outing by walking Phillies starter Zach Eflin, who had never drawn a walk in 160 previous plate appearances. The Braves hurler threw 36 pitches, recorded just two outs and he was given a one-year, $15 million deal to come up big in games like this series opener against the first-place Phillies.
“If he gets the pitcher out, at least he can come in and, even in a 6-0 game, start over,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But it wasn’t a whole lot. Honestly, it kind of reminded [me] of the last time we played in front of a full house here.”
Instead of celebrating their home stadium being at full capacity for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Braves instead treated 38,952 fans -- the largest crowd to see a MLB game this year -- to a first inning that looked a whole lot like when the Cardinals battered Mike Foltynewicz in Game 5 of the 2019 National League Division Series.
St. Louis tallied 10 runs in that opening frame before being swept in the NLCS by the Nationals. So, this latest ugly first inning might not have been as devastating. But it certainly wasn’t fun.
The Braves were fortunate to see Josh Tomlin save the bullpen from being taxed. Tomlin limited the Phillies to one run over 4 1/3 innings.
“I didn’t feel that bad even after we lost Charlie at 6-0,” Snitker said. “We just couldn’t generate anything offensively.”
While division standings might not matter less than a quarter into this season, the Braves have struggled to find consistency. They lost three straight to the Blue Jays last weekend and then swept the Nationals this week. But instead of continuing to make progress, they continued their trend of following one step forward with one step back.
Morton’s struggles began when Contreras was unable to secure the outside third strike Rhys Hoskins swung through in the first. Instead of nobody on with two outs, the Phillies had a threat that increased when Bryce Harper followed with a walk. It didn’t help that veteran umpire Hunter Wendelstedt appeared to miss two strikes thrown to Harper to begin his five-pitch plate appearance.
“It’s my job, if something like that happens, to pick up my teammate,” Morton said.
Instead of stopping the bleeding, Morton allowed consecutive singles to J.T. Realmuto and Alec Bohm to load the bases and give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Jean Segura added to the advantage with a two-out, two-run single. Then Herrera hit his first home run since being suspended for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy midway through the 2019 season.
This was Morton’s 265th career start. The only other one that consisted of just two outs or less was completed for the Pirates during a June 21, 2015 loss to the Nationals.
With each of the runs being unearned, Morton actually lowered his ERA from 5.08 to 4.98. But that certainly doesn’t bring any solace to the critical self-evaluator, who has allowed at least four runs in four of his past five starts.
“It was really just a lot of different things,” Morton said. “It wasn’t one thing I was doing wrong. They had a pretty good approach, as a lot of righties have had against me this year.”
When Morton enjoyed his dominant 2019 season with the Rays, he limited right-handed hitters to a .202 batting average and .562 OPS. He wasn’t as successful against them last year and they have hit .286 against him this year. But it’s somewhat encouraging to see that number has been produced with a .343 batting average on balls in play.
The further the latter is away from .300, the more there is reason to think Morton might have been victimized by some bad luck this year.
“They’re not really trying to do too much against me,” Morton said. “They're staying inside the ball and hitting my fastball. I'm getting away from my breaking ball, which I feel like I'm not really throwing for strikes as well. They can just sit heater and take their hits. When the ball is up a little bit, they can do some more damage.”