Morton's velo; Ozzie's HR; Soroka update

March 18th, 2021

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Considering how long it took him to feel right last year, was pleased to hear the scoreboard readings consistently showed his fastball between 93-95 mph during a 5-2 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night at Ed Smith Stadium.

“In Spring Training last year, I don’t know if I ever got [to that velocity],” Morton said. “Last year, I just never got going. … I came into [Summer Camp] and I didn’t feel good. I just wasn’t ready and it took me a while. It felt like I was pitching in Spring Training for a good month and a half.”

Going back more than a decade to his days as a top Braves prospect, Morton has always been a critical self-evaluator. So, you can imagine what he was feeling last year with the Rays, when his four-seam fastball averaged 92 mph during his first three starts and didn’t rise to the 94-95-mph range until September, when he returned after missing nearly a month because of right shoulder inflammation.

With his arm strength back, Morton got on a roll near the end of September and allowed just one earned run through his first three playoff starts (15 2/3 innings).

Confident he's healthy and back to where he was when he posted a 3.09 ERA over 63 starts from 2018-19, Morton displayed his frontline potential as he allowed just one unearned run and four hits over 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles. He recorded four strikeouts, issued one walk and exited perturbed about falling behind too many batters.

“I felt like my stuff wasn’t that sharp and I felt like my locations weren’t that sharp,” Morton said.

When told it looked like his breaking balls were dancing, Morton once again gave an honest self-assessment.

“I disagree,” Morton said. “I don’t think they were very good at all. It just didn’t have that bite. I left a couple up in two-strike counts that were hit hard. They had a pretty good approach against the breaking ball. That will come.”

Morton hasn’t allowed an earned run over two Grapefruit League starts (7 1/3 innings) he has made thus far. He has pitched in a couple intrasquad games over the past few weeks and will have time to make two more preparatory starts before the regular season begins.

Albies goes yard
Ozzie Albies tallied the first hit against Orioles starter John Means when he belted a one-out, fourth-inning homer. It was the second baseman’s second homer of the spring, but just the first hit he’s had in a handful of plate appearances against left-handers.

Albies is now 1-for-9 with a homer against southpaws this spring. But there has never been reason to worry about the young switch-hitter's ability to hit from the right side of the plate. It’s much more encouraging to see he has gone 4-for-10 from the left side.

After missing a month during the 2020 season because of a bone bruise in his right wrist, Albies hit .314 with an .883 OPS over the 30 remaining games (including the postseason). He hit .280 with a .796 OPS from the left side during that stretch. He had a .696 OPS against right-handers in 2018 and a .778 OPS in 2019.

Soroka update
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Mike Soroka remains on schedule as he completes his rehabilitation from right Achilles surgery. But the Braves haven’t determined whether Soroka will make at least one start before Spring Training concludes at the end of the month.

“That’s still kind of up in the air,” Snitker said. “He’s checking all the boxes. But I don’t think the medical staff has decided when he’ll make his first start.”

The Braves have never set a timetable for Soroka to return from the surgery, which was performed in August. But it’s long been thought he would likely rejoin Atlanta’s rotation in late April or early May.