Charlie Morton, Braves aim to even score vs. Phillies

MLB Baseball

The Atlanta Braves are hopeful that Charlie Morton will continue to pitch like he did in spring training and the Philadelphia Phillies are eager to see Zack Wheeler return to the form he showed a year ago when the two teams meet on Friday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The two right-handers face each other in the second game of a three-game series between the two National League East rivals. The Phillies won the opener 3-2 in 10 innings.

Morton made three appearances in the Grapefruit League and did not allow a run in 10 1/3 innings. Morton, who began his career with Atlanta, returned to the organization as a free agent after going 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts for Tampa Bay in 2020.

Wheeler had a so-so spring (5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings) but is coming off a solid 2020 season that saw him go 4-2 with a career-low 2.92 ERA in 11 starts.

The Braves targeted Morton early in the free-agent process. They saw the veteran, now 37 an in his 14th season, as someone who could help stabilize the staff until ace Mike Soroka returns and provide leadership to a young, talented rotation.

“I was hoping we’d have options in this area of the country,” said Morton, who lives in Florida. “I was glad (the Braves) were calling and being aggressive early.”

Morton has made seven career starts against Philadelphia, going 2-3 with a 6.17 ERA. He had one start against the Phillies in 2020 and allowed four runs, three earned, in five innings while failing to get a decision.

Wheeler was the prized free-agent signee for Philadelphia in the offseason prior to 2020. His arm remained strong throughout the year, although he missed a start in September after tearing the fingernail on the middle finger of his right hand. He had surgery to correct the problem in October.

Wheeler, who grew up in the Atlanta area, has enjoyed success against the favorite team of his childhood. In 16 career starts against the Braves, Wheeler is 6-5 with a 3.79 ERA. He faced Atlanta twice in 2020 and posted a 2.13 ERA while failing to get a decision. He struck out 11 in 12 2/3 innings against the Braves.

The Phillies are having to deal with an early injury. Center fielder Adam Haseley, who beat out Odubel Herrera for the final roster spot, left the season opener after seven innings because of tightness in his left hamstring. Haseley said it was merely a cramp, but the team was taking no chances. Haseley missed 19 days of spring training with a left groin strain.

“How he feels (Friday) will probably be really important and declare was it just a cramp or was it more than a cramp,” Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ll know more Friday.”

The Atlanta offense was limited to seven hits in the 3-2 Opening-Day loss, but left fielder Marcell Ozuna had a single and extended his hitting streak to nine games.

The two teams split 10 games last year, with Philadelphia going 4-3 at home at Citizens Bank Park.

–Field Level Media

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