LAKELAND — Making his final Grapefruit League start before the regular season starts, Rays right-hander Charlie Morton was the victim of some bad luck.
Morton allowed four unearned runs in a 27-pitch first inning, and left the game after just two innings having throwing just 41 pitches.
He struck out two of the first four batters he faced, but the inning was extended when the couldn't cleanly pick up a ball to the left off the mound off the bat of Miguel Cabrera, allowing the Tigers slugger to reach base.
After a two-out walk loaded the bases, left fielder Tommy Pham lost a fly ball in the sun that allowed three runs to score. John Hicks' RBI double put Morton in a 4-0 hole.
For a veteran like Morton, spring is about building innings, getting a feel for pitches and command and regaining familiarity with how to attack hitters, but he said going through an inning like Saturday's opening frame is good preparation for the regular season.
“It’s nice to go out and pitch really well and breeze through it, but it’s good to go out there and fail a little bit,” Morton said. "You don’t get to pitch in higher level situations — man on second, man on third — and you need to do it so it’s not a shock in the regular season.
Morton retired the Tigers in order in the second inning on 14 pitches.
Because Morton went five innings and threw 73 pitches in his previous outing against the Pirates, manager Kevin Cash said the plan for him on Saturday was for him to go just two innings or 45 pitches, whichever game first.
Morton said he would have liked to have shown better command in the strike zone, but with his next start coming in the second game of the season on Friday, he said he'd as ready for the regular season as he can be.
“Every spring training, the last last week of spring training, you have a little bit of doubt, ‘Am I ready to do exactly what I need to do?’” Morton said. “And that’s natural. The games, they mean something here, but not nearly as much as a regular season game.
"Ideally, you go into the season and you feel great and you feel completely ready, but it’s not, at least in my experience, to feel like you’re 100 percent ready. ... For for where I’m at, I feel in line with where I’ve been.”
Pham hit his first spring training homer in the Rays’ 8-7 walkoff loss, taking a fastball from Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann deep onto the left-centerfield berm for a two-run homer in the third inning, but was disappointed in losing the fly ball in the sun. “Offensively, it was better, a step in the right direction,” Pham said. “I would like to pick up breaking pitches just a hair sooner so that I can start driving them. I’ve got to work on sun balls now. I wasn’t too pleased with that play today. I expect more from myself, and I know the team does as well, so live and learn. ... There’s many ways to go about it, and I panicked. I’ve got to keep working on it so that it becomes second nature.” ... First baseman Ji-Man Choi was 3-for-3, including his second Grapefruit League homer homer, and is hitting a robust .378 this spring. “Ji-Man’s had a good spring,” Cash said. "He’s hit the ball all over the field covering a lot of the fastballs and the offspeed pitches. ... Emilio Pagan showed increased velocity while throwing a scoreless fourth inning with two strikeouts, and has gone five straight outings without allowing an earned run. ... Minor leaguer Josh Lowe rapped a double and made a nice shoestring catch charging in on a ball in center field. ... Jason Coats hit a two-run double that gave the Rays a 7-5 lead in the sixth. ... The Rays took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but Cameron Rupp’s two-run double off Luis Santos with two outs gave the Tigers the win.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.