Rays Journal: Morton Exceeds Expectations Against Pirates

Starter Charlie Morton said his outing Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates proved “pleasantly surprising.”

Morton, the team’s top off-season acquisition, tossed five scoreless innings while striking out four. Throwing 44 of his 73 pitches for strikes, he succeeded with a mix of pitches, including good command of the fastball, curveball and changeup. It also helped to have some solid defense behind him including a big catch by Kevin Kiermaier in the first.

Interestingly, Pirates starter Nick Kingham matched Morton’s effort, holding the Rays scoreless through five while striking out five.

Morton did allow both runners he faced in the sixth to reach base, and J.B. Shuck’s broken bat single against reliever Corey Sadler marred what was an otherwise strong outing for the righthander.

“Every spring, you feel like you're not quite ready -- your body is not quite ready,” Morton said. “But that doesn't mean every time you feel that way that you're missing … if that makes any sense.

“You're always questioning things: am I ready for the regular season? I think you kinda have to accept it for what it is. You just look at stuff with command and not judge it based on how it feels. I feel good and I think my stuff is pretty good right now.”

Morton and manager Kevin Cash said they were so happy that Morton extended to six innings and 73 pitches that he wasn’t sure if he would try to extend him even further in his last spring training game on Saturday against the Tigers in Lakeland.

Almost ‘Bittersweet’

Outfielder Austin Meadows’s used The Verve’s 1997 classic Bittersweet Symphony as his walk-up music Monday, and he almost ended up on the wrong end of a bittersweet play. Pirates first baseman Colin Moran drove a ball to deep right center in the first inning. Meadows and Rays centerfield Kevin Kiermaier arrived under the ball at almost the same time, and Kiermaier made a leaping catch to corral it. But as he came down, his side hit Meadows and bounced it off the outfield wall.

Meadows sat for a moment and came off the field looking a bit groggy. But after a quick look from trainers, he led off the bottom of the first and stayed in the game.

“It was just kind of a freak thing,” Meadows said. “We both kind of went up to the ball and he kind of went up higher than me and just kind of landed down on my head ... he kind of squished my head into the wall. But luckily he made a great play and we’re okay.”

Go-Go Garrett

Garrett Whitley, the Rays’ 2015 first-round pick, replaced Meadows in right field in the seventh and finished the game. It was a significant stint considering the minor leaguer missed almost all of 2018 with a season-ending labrum injury. Whitley, who drove in Emilio Bonifacio with an RBI double in the ninth, said he got cleared to return to full action about two weeks ago, and was thrilled to get to play on the big field.

Garrett Whitley, the Rays' 2015 first-round pick, got a chance to play with the big club Monday after missing 2018 with a labrum injury. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Garrett Whitley, the Rays' 2015 first-round pick, got a chance to play with the big club Monday after missing 2018 with a labrum injury. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]

“I've been doing a lot of work just trying to get healthy and feeling good,” said Whitley, 22. “To come back out and be playing games again – I've been playing on the back fields -- now to get the chance to come out and play with the big guys, it’s good.”

Whitley, chosen 13th overall after earning the Gatorade New York Player of the Year for his play at Niskayuna High said the team hasn’t reached a final decision of where he will play this year. He hopes to extend the performance that helped him have a strong second half in Class A Bowling Green in 2017. Either way, Cash said it’s great to see a young player have success.

“He’s worked really hard,” Cash said of Whitley. “He's one of the nicest guys I've been around here in this organization. He looks like he's in great shape and he smoked that ball.”

Game Details

The pitchers’ duel between Morton and Kingham eventually gave way to a few timely hits in the Pirates 4-2 victory. Tampa Bay cut into the 2-0 lead Pittsburgh built with an RBI single from Brandon Lowe that drove in Tommy Pham from third. Pham reached base on a walk and then went from first to third on a single by Yandy Diaz to set up the score. The Pirates, however, added two more runs. Catcher Jacob Stallings drove in Melky Cabrera with an RBI single off of Sadler in the seventh, and Pablo Reyes drove home Stallings with an RBI single off of reliever Wilmer Font in the ninth. Whitley added his RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.

Spring things

Lowe’s strong spring continued with not only the RBI single, but a couple of nifty plays at second base. He’s now hitting .359. “He hits a lot,” Cash said. … Cash missed batting practice Monday because he was on the backfields watching Matt Duffy run. A strained left hamstring has sidelined the third baseman for most of spring training, but Cash said Duffy “had a really good day.” He’ll look to play Duffy on Thursday after the off day, most likely in the home game against Atlanta. The Rays also have a split-squad game against Boston in Fort Myers. … Tommy Pham returned to the outfield after resting his shoulder for a couple of weeks. He fielded one single and comfortably delivered the ball to the cutoff man. …

Quote Of The Day

“Never.”

Cash, when asked if Morton would get the privilege of deciding when he exits the game in the regular season. On Monday, they let him decide if he wanted to face one more batter in the sixth inning.

Source : https://www.tampabay.com/sports/2019/03/18/rays-journal-morton-exceeds-expectations-against-pirates/

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