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Morton rebounds after rough start

Righty strikes out a career-high 12 in win over A's
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON - The 100th pitch Charlie Morton threw Friday night was a 95-mph fastball that A's outfielder Jaff Decker could only foul off. Morton struck out Decker swinging on an 82-mph curveball on his next pitch, capping a strong performance from the Astros right-hander.

Despite giving up two homers to Khris Davis -- a three-run homer in the first and a solo homer in the third -- Morton came up with his best start in a couple of years by striking out a career-high 12 batters against no walks in a season-high seven innings in the Astros' 9-4 win at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON - The 100th pitch Charlie Morton threw Friday night was a 95-mph fastball that A's outfielder Jaff Decker could only foul off. Morton struck out Decker swinging on an 82-mph curveball on his next pitch, capping a strong performance from the Astros right-hander.

Despite giving up two homers to Khris Davis -- a three-run homer in the first and a solo homer in the third -- Morton came up with his best start in a couple of years by striking out a career-high 12 batters against no walks in a season-high seven innings in the Astros' 9-4 win at Minute Maid Park.

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"It's almost like a mental stamina kind of thing," Morton said. "We haven't worked deep into a game in a while. Shoot, I don't remember last time I finished seven innings. 2015? [Aug. 2, 2015]. Those are the kinds of things, I think, help progression.

"I don't think it's fair for me to expect myself to come back and be sharp and work into games having not pitched, but at the same time, I think it's realistic considering my stuff has been playing pretty well. I've got to make pitches. Tonight, it worked out."

Morton, who made only four starts last year for the Phillies before tearing his hamstring running the bases, had trouble pitching deep into games in his first four starts with the Astros. After throwing six innings in his 2017 debut, his next three starts ended after five innings and raised questions about efficiency.

But on Friday, the big right-hander shook off the early trouble against the A's and sent down 13 of the final 15 batters he faced after Davis' third-inning homer.

"He was good," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He's got a good sinker, a good cutter. He's got a hard breaking ball. Throws 95-96 mph. He's pretty good."

Morton credited catcher Evan Gattis for sticking with the game plan and letting him stay aggressive. After Davis' first-inning homer, the Astros struck for three in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. Houston reeled off six unanswered runs after Davis' ninth homer of the year put Oakland ahead, 4-3, in the third, with Morton getting better as the game progressed.

"That was an interesting start for him because it wasn't the way he scripted getting into the game," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He had all kinds of trouble. From the hit by pitch, to the home run on the breaking ball to Davis, which is a tough one.

"He just got stronger and strong and stronger as the game went along. As he built himself up, the velocity even came up a little bit. His conviction, his pitches got way better. His breaking ball got way better, this command. He went from not really having an idea of where his pitches were going to the best he's been as a regular-season Astro."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Charlie Morton