Following two strong pitching performances to start the season, A.J. Hinch will hand the ball to the Astros newest starting pitcher, Charlie Morton.
Charlie Morton was signed in the off-season to effectively replace Doug Fister in the Astros rotation. Morton is in his ninth year of major league service time, and is coming off an injury year with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Houston GM Jeff Luhnow spoke with Sportstalk 790 this morning and, in summation, said that Morton “checked all the boxes” with his pitching repertoire, and that the prior injuries had little to do with his arm. There is a high level of confidence that the lower body injuries that have sidelined him previously can be prevented with the correct training and preparation. This philosophy will be key in maximizing Morton’s potential as he has only twice topped 150 innings in a season thus far in his career.
During spring, Morton’s fastball got up to 97 MPH, which is as good as his velocity has ever been. His ground ball rate is a career 55.4%. The ground ball-inducing quality was a key factor of bringing him to Houston, as fly-ball pitchers do not typically fare well in Minute Maid Park.
However, in five career starts in the confines of MMP, Morton owns a 1-4 record with a 7.71 ERA. It is worth noting that he hasn’t pitched in Houston since 2011, when he was still a relatively young pitcher.
Against the current Seattle Mariners, Morton has only faced one player more than four at bats. Jean Segura, an old NL opponent only has three hits in 22 at bats against Morton. Last year, albeit only 17 innings of work, he gave up eight free passes. Control and walks will be something to keep an eye on during this game.
Morton throws a two-seam fastball more than half of the time, and mixes in a four-seamer, curveball and a split-finger to complement his heater. For as hard as Morton throws, he does pitch to contact more than trying to strikeout the lineup. It does bode well for him that the defense he has behind him in Houston is one of the best defenses he has ever had.
Thus far Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have done a good job of mixing pitches and getting out jams. Look for Morton to minimize free passes, and keep the ball in the infield to produce a third consecutive victory for Houston.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs**