The Braves suffered a tough loss at the hands of the Phillies on Opening Day Thursday, falling in extras by a score of 3-2. They had a couple of balls that surely would have left the yard on most days fall short because of the windy conditions, and several of their other hard hits balls just happened to find someone’s glove. Still, it was exciting to finally watch a game that meant something with fans in the stand, and Braves fans are in for another treat on Saturday, as Charlie Morton makes his Braves debut against Zack Wheeler of the Phillies.
Morton was Atlanta’s biggest signing of the offseason, inking a one-year, $15 million contract a few days before Thanksgiving. Because he’s 37, I don’t think most people understand just what he will provide the Braves this year. Morton’s aged like fine wine, making his only two All-Star appearances in 2017 and 2018 — the latter of which he finished third in the AL Cy Young race, posting a 3.05 ERA and an 11.1 K/9 compared to just a 2.6 BB/9.
That’s the same guy that showed up to Spring Training this year, too. In three starts (10.1) innings, Morton didn’t allow a single run and struck out nine. There’s a reason he’s been slotted as the #2 in the rotation, and it’s because he remains among the best pitchers in baseball. Don’t believe me? How about this stat from Jayson Stark of The Athletic — among active starters over the age of 33, Morton ranks 4th with a 3.34 ERA and K/9 of 10.64. The only pitchers in front of him? Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander. That’s some damn good company.
Beyond what Morton offers on the mound, he also brings some much-needed experience to the rotation, which is incredibly valuable. Even though Cole Hamels pitched a total of 3.1 innings last season, it’s no coincidence Max Fried took the giant leap forward with Hamels on the roster. Alex Anthopoulos also spoke to that in Stark’s piece.
“I think it’s important to have someone who has that type of experience,” Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos told us this winter. “I still think there’s value in that in this day and age. I still remember, when I was in Toronto, hearing Roy Halladay talk about the impact Pat Hentgen had on him as a young pitcher. I remember Hentgen talking about the impact Jack Morris and Roger Clemens had on him when he pitched. … I just think those lessons that older players can teach younger players is a real thing.”
Morton’s impact will be felt on the field and in the clubhouse, and it all begins tomorrow at 4:05 PM in Philadelphia against Zack Wheeler. The Phillies hard-throwing right-hander is an Atlanta native and has had decent success against his hometown team, going 6-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 16 starts. Hopefully, the Braves and Morton can get the best of him tomorrow, as they look to improve to 1-1 on the season.
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