Charlie Morton threw three innings in a rehab start tonight for the Bradenton Marauders, starting his journey back to the majors. Morton has been out since late May last year due to Tommy John surgery, and is now at-most 30-days away from returning to the big leagues. Morton gave up two runs on three hits tonight, walking none and striking out two. Two of the hits were hard hit balls, and resulted in both of the runs.
In the first inning, Morton hit Collin Walsh in the foot with one out. The next batter, Stephen Piscotty, the number ten prospect in the St. Louis system according to Baseball America, hit a double to the wall in left-center field. That brought in Walsh for the first run of the evening. Morton got out of the frame with a groundout and a strikeout swinging on a nice curveball.
Morton worked quickly in the second inning. He got a first pitch groundout to short on a sinker. He followed that up with a three pitch strikeout, with the last pitch being a sinker that froze third baseman Danny Stienstra. He followed that up with a fly out to center field to end the inning.
After getting a pop out to Alen Hanson in foul territory to start the third, Morton got another groundout to second. It looked like he was going to get out of the frame quickly, until Walsh crushed a home run off the boardwalk over the right field wall. Morton followed that up with a single that dropped in shallow right field, just out of the reach of second baseman Dan Gamache. He got out of the inning with another ground out to second to end his day.
Morton threw 44 pitches, with 33 strikes. He finished off throwing a few pitches in the bullpen after his third inning, getting up to the 50 pitch mark. After the game, Morton said that he felt his sinker was working, which definitely was the case with the ground balls he was getting.
“My sinker was really good,” Morton said. “I got a bunch of ground balls and swing and misses. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with my sinker. So my sinker was right where I wanted it to be. I was throwing it to lefties and righties and getting ground balls.”
The two hard hit balls (the double and the home run) came off the four-seamer. Morton had issues tonight executing the pitch. He was trying to go up and in on both guys and they both turned on the pitch.
“I’m trying to get feedback from the hitters, so that’s the kind of feedback I want to get,” Morton said. “Especially now. I prefer to get it early and I can make adjustments off of that.”
“I’m not going to make a major adjustment, but what that says to me is I’m going to have to be a little bit aggressive trying to get the ball in on guys if I’m going to be throwing four seamers,” he added. “If I’m going to throw a four seamer in, I can’t just leave it for them to hit. Whereas my sinker is totally different. My sinker, I can just throw it and try to keep it down, but really I can just throw it. I can’t do that with my four seamer. It has to be better located.”
Morton admitted that he felt a little nervous for his first start under the lights in almost a year. He had some butterflies before the game. Marauders pitching coach Justin Meccage was monitoring his status after each inning, but Morton didn’t have any physical issues during the start.
One highlight tonight was that he hit 96 MPH twice, and was sitting in the 93-95 range throughout the start. He was hitting that velocity as recently as the 2011 season, but was down in 2012. That could have been due to his injury.
“I think it just hurt too much to throw hard,” Morton said. “Even early in the year, it just wasn’t there. When the pain wasn’t there, the velocity still wasn’t there. Maybe I was hurt. I have no idea.”
The injury forced Morton to change the way he pitched last year. He got away from his sinker and curveball — arguably his two best pitches — due to the pain in his arm in his final starts.
“When I was hurt last year I was throwing [the changeup] a lot,” Morton said. “I was basically throwing four seam/changeup last year. Because it hurt to throw a sinker and it hurt to throw a curveball.”
Morton had all of his pitches tonight, throwing the sinker, four seam, cutter, curve, and changeup. He felt that the off-speed was good. The curveball looked good, getting one of his two strikeouts. There was an instance where Morton got away with leaving one up. The ball was hit to center field to end the second, but was hit right at Gregory Polanco. Morton left the pitch in the middle of the zone, which led to some hard contact.
“On a two strike pitch, the ball should never be in the middle of the zone, but it was,” Morton said of the pitch.
Overall the stuff looked good, outside of the four seam fastball. He was getting a lot of ground balls with the sinker, the curveball had good movement, and he has his velocity back. Morton was throwing a lot of strikes, and a lot of first pitch strikes. He’s thrown twice before in extended Spring Training, but he still doesn’t have a lot of work in actual games in the last 11 months. He should get a few more starts during his rehab assignment to make those adjustments with his four-seam fastball.
“I honestly think my stuff is there,” Morton said. “It’s just about execution and conviction.”