Sunday, March 27, 2022
It had been 152 days since veteran Charlie Morton pitched Game 1 of last year’s World Series (an outing that resulted in a broken leg for the righty), but today the 38-year-old had everything working, pitching 4 2/3 hitless innings against the Rays (to go with five strikeouts and one walk) in a game the Braves lost late.
The majority of Sunday’s Braves-Rays matchup was pretty uneventful. Through seven innings, neither team managed to score as Atlanta’s offense tallied five hits, compared to just two from Tampa Bay (all singles). However, there was some flashy defense when center fielder Guillermo Heredia gunned down Tyler Walls at second base to end the third…
The Braves finally broke through with a run in the eighth, though. With minor leaguer Stephen Paolini on second and journeyman Pat Valaika on first, farmhand Logan Brown slapped a line drive to left to score Paolini, giving Atlanta the 1-0 lead. However, with the Braves Trey Riley on the mound for the bottom-half of the frame, the Rays answered, and by the time Michael Tonkin came in to relieve Riley (seven batters later), Tampa Bay had pushed across four runs (thanks to an RBI double by Jonathan Aranda and a three-run home run by Heriberto Hernandez).
The ninth went pretty quick. Despite a one-out walk and a stolen base by former prospect CJ Alexander, the Rays Colin Poche was able to strike out Drew Lugbauer and retire Jordan Cowan with a weakly-hit groundout. Tampa Bay wins.
Of course the loss is pretty meaningless. The main storyline from today’s game was Morton’s gem of an outing. It’s definitely reassuring to see the seasoned vet go so deep in the game, especially given it was his first start of spring. But the fact that he looked like a guy in mid-season form suggests this could be yet another big year for the Braves righty. It’s still unknown whether or not manager Brian Snitker will go with Morton or Max Fried for the Opening Day start, but as of right now, I’d say he should be leaning towards the former. A guy returning from a broken leg… after pitching in the World Series – yeah, my pick is Morton.
Other contributors on the mound for the Braves today consisted of righty Dylan Lee and prospect AJ Smith-Shawver. Lee worked 1 1/3 innings and allowed a hit while striking out one, while Smith-Shawver pitched an inning and allowed a hit with two strikeouts. Offensively, no Braves batter recorded an XBH on Sunday, though lead-off hitter Heredia’s base-hit has him up to a .300 AVG for the spring. With his plus defense, if he could just be a .250ish hitter in 2022, he’d be a solid fill-in until Ronald Acuna Jr. returns.
The Braves are on TV again for Monday’s 12:05 PM (CT) matchup with the Blue Jays. Atlanta will go with prospect Spencer Strider on the mound and Toronto will turn to Shaun Alexander. It’ll be interesting to see what the starting lineups look like as the Blue Jays are supposed to be a stacked offense this season. Some are even calling for a Braves-Blue Jays World Series this year. Hopefully Strider can keep the Jays bats quiet tomorrow.