BALTIMORE -- In case you needed a reminder about where Houston sits in the heart of Charlie Morton, his equal parts rambling and emotional two-minute-long answer when asked about his favorite memory there should serve as case in point.
It’s a story that starts with Jeremiah Randall, Morton’s close friend and Houston’s head athletic trainer, who took him around town for his physicals. It continues with manager AJ Hinch, who met him for breakfast before his introductory press conference -- “That’s never happened to me before” -- and it peaks at the sport’s apex.
“It’s probably a culmination of everything,” Morton said before the Rays' series finale Sunday against the Orioles at Camden Yards. “I would say probably winning the World Series [in 2017], that was special. But it was another memory as part of a bunch of them. Overcoming some adversity, doing some special things for the city. I wouldn’t say there was one particular one. It was just a good time.”
Tuesday will be the first time the one they call Uncle Charlie -- the one who recorded the most important out in Astros history, the one who found a late-career revival in Space City -- returns to the city he has a particular fondness for since he joined the Rays last offseason on a two-year deal.
He has faced the Astros once before -- both Morton's and Tampa Bay’s first win of the season came during the opening series against Houston at Tropicana Field. While that may help quell the emotions of facing his close friends, it can only do so much to help in a new, but also old, venue.
“It’s always kind of awkward to face people that you’re friends with,” Morton said. “It doesn’t matter what team you’re on. It doesn’t matter. It’s just different. Maybe it helped. I think there’s an adjustment to those experiences where it gets easier over time.”
Morton knows better than most the type of growth that comes within the game. He’s in his 12th season at the age of 35. He has put up three of the best years of his career since Houston took a chance on him in before the 2017 season. He’s happy to return and appreciative of what Houston has meant to his career.
“I know I had a real special experience over there, and those guys are important to me,” Morton said. “It’s always been a special place, Minute Maid [Park]. There are guys over there I’m still friends with. I’ll just have to be pitching against them now.”
But maybe, just maybe, there’s no better leadoff batter to settle him in.
“At The Trop, the first guy to step in the box was George Springer,” Morton recalled, “and he was cheesing at me.”
As for Monday’s off-day, Morton said he doesn’t have much of a plan. He might see some friends, attend a team function at some point, maybe drive around and visit some of his former stomping grounds.
“It’s going to be a low-key day,” he said.
The next day certainly won’t be.
Wendle returns with caution
It was a bit surprising that the Rays activated infielder Joey Wendle as the corresponding move for lefty Jose Alvarado landing on the injured list Saturday. It was done in part so that Tampa Bay would have a lefty bat in the lineup or off the bench, with the Rays facing four righty starters in a row starting Sunday against the Orioles.
Rays manager Kevin Cash acknowledged that Tampa Bay will have to be careful with Wendle, especially in his pregame swings, as he battles right wrist inflammation. Wendle can play in back-to-back games, but Cash said he’ll likely be limited to two out of three games for now. He’ll slot in more at shortstop and third base, with Eric Sogard taking the everyday reps at second with Brandon Lowe’s season over.
Starter trio progressing
Tyler Glasnow is set to throw live batting practice Tuesday in Port Charlotte, Fla., in the next step in his recovery from a right forearm strain that has sidelined him since May. Blake Snell (surgery to remove loose bodies in left elbow), who Cash estimated is about 10 days behind Glasnow's schedule, continues to play catch and feels good about how the ball is coming out of his hand. Yonny Chirinos (right middle finger inflammation) is a few steps behind Snell.
The Rays are still mulling over what roles the three will take once they return. It’ll be a quick turnaround for them to try to return to form should Tampa Bay advance to the postseason. But their aptitude gives Cash confidence that they will excel.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that challenging because they’re all three really good,” Cash said. “Whenever they get to the point where we are talking about game action, most likely we are going to start them just as we would any other game and look to find ways to build them up."