SARASOTA — Charlie Morton didn’t want to put too much stock into his first Grapefruit League start with the Rays on Friday. He has enough experience to realize spring training is a process of preparation.
Morton's Rays spring debut in Tampa Bay's 10-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles was a strong initial step. He retired all four batters he faced on 17 pitches. An economical first inning allowed him to get the benefit of an additional batter to open the second, allowing him to get face one more hitter after sitting in the dugout.
"That was the goal, to be efficient enough to go out there ... for the first batter in the second inning," Morton said. "So we accomplished our goals and then I went down and threw a couple in the pen just to get a couple more and it felt good. I got what I needed to out of the day."
Morton ended an eight-pitch at bat by getting Baltimore’s Rio Ruiz him to swing through a fastball, and he induced weak contact on a check-swing ground out off the bat of Chris Davis.
"I felt pretty good," Morton said. "Yanked a couple, threw a couple of good ones, stuck a couple where I was trying to throw them. It's hard to tell. Hitters are trying to get their timing, we're trying to get our timing, everything that's been said a thousand times about spring training, so that's what that was.
It’s clear that Morton, who is entering his 12th big league season, will take a business-like approach in spring training as he builds his inning count. On Friday, he pitched from the stretch against his final hitter, seemingly simulating runners on base.
“Awesome,” said shortstop Daniel Robertson of playing behind Morton. “He was pounding the zone, getting ahead of guys. ... It was good tempo. Slider, curveball whatever you want to call it, looked very frisbee-ish. That was good to see. He knows what he’s doing. He’s out here getting his work in as well. It was good to get behind him.”
Before Friday's game, Rays manager Kevin Cash said he didn't need to see anything specifically from Morton in his first start.
“I saw the live BP, the stuff’s there already,” Cash said. “Regardless of whatever happens out there or results-wise, we know he can pitch. He can really command the baseball. The breaking ball combination with the fastball, watching our hitters react to his pitches in live BP was pretty telling on how sharp he is.”
The Rays scored four runs in the top of the first inning off former Ray Alex Cobb, highlighted by a two-run homer by Guillermo Heredia.
“It’s beneficial to score a bunch of runs,” Morton said. “... Ideally everything is just perfect. You just go out there and you throw 12-14 pitches and inning, you throw 75 percent strikes, you mix in some pitches and everything’s perfect. The weather’s beautiful and everything’s right, but sometimes your offense is awesome. It was cool. It was fun to watch.”
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Infielder Daniel Robertson's fast spring start is showing glimpses of the player he was before a thumb injury ended his year last season two months prematurely.
Robertson was 3-for-3 with three singles in Friday's contest, and is now 6-for-10 this spring.
"Robby looks good," Cash said. "He's made some swing adjustments I know this offseason. He's coming in in a really good spot after missing the last two months."
Robertson joked that it would be nice to save some of his spring hits for the regular season, but said his success on Friday had to do with a strong two-strike approach.
“Right now, I’m just working on seeing the ball,” Robertson said. “I’ve done a lot of work on keeping my barrel in the zone for as long as possible, so that’s just a testament to that. So I’d rather have that happen than a swing and miss and strike three. It’s early in spring, so just trying to keep it simple and just see the ball.”
In eight Grapefruit League games, the Rays have scored more than five runs twice, both of those games coming this week against the Orioles in Sarasota. They beat Baltimore 11-5 in eight innings on Tuesday. ... Heredia drove in three runs, adding an RBI single to his first inning homer. ... Austin Meadows hit his second homer of the Grapefruit League season with a solo blast in the fourth inning. All five of Meadows’ spring training hits are for extra bases (three doubles, two homers). He is 5-for-12. ... Yonny Chirinos allowed two runs — including a Chance Sisco homer — on three hits over 1-2/3 innings in relief of Morton. He has allowed three runs in 2-2/3 innings in two spring outings, both times entering as the second pitcher as he would in the bulk role.
Cash said that left-hander Ryan Yarbrough will likely only miss "a couple days" after he left Thursday's outing with left groin tightness after striking out the only batter he faced. "Good for Yarbs for saying he felt a little tight last night," said Cash, who called the injury minor. "It's not the time to push through anything."
Shortstop prospect Lucius Fox logged two sharp singles in Thursday’s game against the Twins and he’s now 5-for-8 this spring. “He smoked two balls yesterday,” Cash said. “You can tell when we acquired him, he was young, he was on the lighter side. he didn’t have strength and now he’s kind of coming into his own.”
Both games of Saturday’s afternoon split-squad will be on WDAE, with broadcasts switching back and forth as events dictate. Andy Freed will call the home game in Port Charlotte against the Phillies and Dave Wills and Neil Solondz on the microphone for the road game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
Quote of the day
"I Facetime with him every day, so I see him plenty."
Cash deadpanning on seeing his former bench coach Charlie Montoyo, now managing the Blue Jays, on Saturday when the Rays play a road split-squad game against Toronto. It will be the first meeting this spring between the Rays and Blue Jays.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.