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With Astros up 2-0, Morton starts G3 in Bronx

Astros righty held his own in ALDS clincher at Fenway, beat Yanks in regular season
MLB.com @JaneMLB

HOUSTON -- For weeks, the Astros mulled the best way to utilize right-hander Charlie Morton in the postseason.

They had Lance McCullers Jr., Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh to consider, too, behind co-aces Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.

HOUSTON -- For weeks, the Astros mulled the best way to utilize right-hander Charlie Morton in the postseason.

They had Lance McCullers Jr., Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh to consider, too, behind co-aces Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.

The Astros ultimately decided that it was in their best interest to keep Morton in a starting role. So to the mound he went for a Game 4 start against the Red Sox in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan last Monday. Morton held his own at Fenway Park, convincing Houston manager A.J. Hinch he could do the same at Yankee Stadium.

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Morton will get the ball tonight against left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World, with Houston staked to a 2-0 series advantage.

Morton, who grew up a Yankees fan in the tri-state region, with an affinity for Derek Jeter and a watchful eye on pitchers Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Cone, called the assignment "special."

It won't be an easy one, certainly, following the acts of Keuchel and Verlander, who held the Yankees to one run in a combined 16 innings in the first two games.

"To be here and on this stage is incredible for me," said Morton, who also attended Spring Training games in Tampa as a youngster, where he scored an autograph from former Yankees catcher and current manager Joe Girardi in a scene that made for a lasting memory.

Morton will have six days of rest behind him, having allowed two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts across 4 1/3 innings in Houston's series-clinching Game 4 win in Boston. It was the right-hander's first postseason start since 2013, when he was with the Pirates.

The 33-year-old had a reputation as an oft-injured pitcher when the Astros committed two years and $14 million for his services last offseason. The gamble was a good one.

Morton turned in a 14-7 record and a 3.62 ERA in 25 regular-season starts, beating the Yanks in his only outing against them this year. He shut them down for four innings on May 14, before allowing four runs in the fifth. Each of Morton's first seven outs in the game came via strikeout, and he fanned 10 total.

"He pitched very well at Yankee Stadium the last time he faced these guys," Hinch said. "He also pitched well in Boston, in one of the most crazy environments imaginable."

Video: ALCS Gm3: Morton discusses pitching at Yankee Stadium

"Charlie wants so badly to do well for our team. They feel the responsibility to their teammates. They want to do well so we can do well. And that's the definition of the team we have."

Only three Yankees batters have more than 10 career at-bats against the hard-throwing righty: Matt Holliday leads the way with 37 at-bats, picking up 11 hits -- three of them home runs -- for a .297 average. Starlin Castro has 12 hits, including three homers, in 30 at-bats for a healthy .400 average against Morton, while Todd Frazier has held his own with a 7-for-18 showing (.389) that includes two home runs.

Young Yanks slugger Aaron Judge managed a walk against Morton on May 14, but he also struck out in his two other trips to the plate against him. Holding right-handed batters in check will be crucial for Morton, whose splits proved drastic this year; while restricting lefties to a .175 batting average, Morton yielded a .273 opponents' average to right-handed hitters.

"I've really limited by use of my sinker against lefties. I've thrown a lot more four-seamers, way more curveballs, I've incorporated a cutter," Morton explained. "I know that I don't feel like I'm backed into a corner, when before I did. I felt like if a lefty stepped in the box, I had to be that much better.

Video: ALCS Gm3: Morton on Astros' impressive start to ALCS

"I would get a copy of the lineup before a game and I would see seven or eight lefties stacked against me. It just made the idea of going out there and trying to pitch deep into a game even more difficult to envision because I was a sinker guy, throwing 60, 70 percent sinkers, and they were hitting my sinker."

At least three left-handed batters figure to occupy New York's lineup tonight. Leadoff man Brett Gardner is 3-for-4 against Morton, while Didi Gregorius is 1-for-6. Greg Bird, who homered in the ninth inning of Game 1 on Friday, has not recorded an at-bat vs. Morton.

"The idea that I'm going to make these guys put the ball in play, and try to induce soft contact, that's out the window," Morton said. "Lefties, I'm not trying to do that, I'm not trying to let them hit the ball."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.

Houston Astros, Charlie Morton