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Morton stifles Yanks, leads AL in ERA at break

Righty strikes out 10 in 5 2/3 innings as Rays earn series split
July 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- To wrap up what has largely been a successful first half of the season, Tampa Bay turned to its most reliable starting pitcher in All-Star Charlie Morton, who did what he’s done all year long -- win. Signed as a free agent over the offseason, Morton pitched

ST. PETERSBURG -- To wrap up what has largely been a successful first half of the season, Tampa Bay turned to its most reliable starting pitcher in All-Star Charlie Morton, who did what he’s done all year long -- win.

Signed as a free agent over the offseason, Morton pitched a solid 5 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and allowing just one run on five hits and a walk in the Rays’ 2-1 win over the Yankees on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

“[Morton] was outstanding, making big pitches to get out of a couple jams,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s got the stuff that’s capable to do that, and to do it against that lineup, which is as good as anybody in baseball, it shows how much he was on today.”

Box score

With the victory, the Rays split the four-game set with the Yankees, pulling within 6 1/2 games of first-place New York in the American League East. At 52-39, it’s the fourth-most wins Tampa Bay will take into the break in club history; the team made the playoffs in each of the top three seasons.

“We’ve been really good, we’ve had some tough times here as of late, but we’ve put ourselves in a tremendous position to get out of the break and compete,” Cash said. “I hope that our guys recognize that. This game is not easy, our division is not easy and the American League is not easy, and we have done a lot of good things to put ourselves in the position we are at right now.”

Morton, meanwhile, leads the AL with a 2.32 ERA, and the Rays’ staff with a 10-2 record and 142 strikeouts. The only blemish on his line against New York was a second-inning home run by Brett Garner, who’s homered in three straight games.

“I feel good about my body of work in the first half,” Morton said. “For the most part, I’ve been able to keep the team in games and worked deeper into games the past month. But it’s the first half and you’ve got a long way to go.”

The Rays will look to get back into the rhythm they had been in up until the middle of June, when they largely stood atop the AL East standings. The Yankees seized the division lead on June 15, and Tampa Bay is just 10-12 while New York is 16-4 dating back to that day.

There are encouraging signs, especially as the Rays appear to have re-established some of their momentum through back-to-back wins to finish off the first half after dropping three straight. Overall during its most recent homestand, Tampa Bay went 6-4 against Texas, Baltimore and New York.

“It’s a much better feeling than the way it was heading,” Cash said. “We went through a tough stretch, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re a really good team, played really well in the first half and have stuff we can improve upon in the second half. These two wins certainly help that.”

The All-Star break may be exactly what the bullpen needs as well. During the three-game losing streak, the bullpen faltered by giving up 14 earned runs in the ninth inning or later. The Rays are likely to be without José Alvarado for at least a couple of weeks after he sustained a right oblique strain, though they are hopeful to have Diego Castillo return when they open the second half on Friday. Cash hinted that the high-leverage role may end up going to Emilio Pagán in the meantime. Pagan notched the save in Sunday’s win.

“I know that the bullpen has been beaten up a bit lately and we’ve lost some late games, but we’ve got confidence in these guys,” Cash said. “Whatever role it is -- whether it’s Pagan pitching in the sixth inning or the ninth -- we’ve got confidence he can get the job done, and that goes for other guys as well. … There’s a bunch of guys capable of getting big outs.”