Morton was one of several Rays pitchers nearing the end of their spring throwing programs before play was suspended, Josh Tolentino of The Athletic reports. The veteran right-hander had only made two Grapefruit League appearances (3.1 innings) before spring training was suspended, but he'd also worked in multiple simulated games while getting stretched out. Morton continues to work out as much as he can on his own while play is paused, and he projects to serve as one of the team's top three starters whenever the regular season does begin.
Morton is slated to work multiple simulated games over the next week and make just one more Grapefruit League appearance in anticipation of a likely Opening Day start, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports. The veteran right-hander was originally scheduled to make his next Grapefruit League start Sunday against his old Pirates squad, but he'll instead work four innings and build up to approximately 60 pitches in a simulated environment on the backfields of the Rays' spring training complex. Morton will then repeat the process approximately five or six days later, with the goal of reaching 75 pitches in that outing. That would leave Morton an opportunity to make a final spring start March 20 against the Nationals, and then have the benefit of six days rest before the regular-season opener against Pittsburgh.
Morton was credited with a win in a Grapefruit League victory over the Orioles on Tuesday, firing a scoreless first inning during which he issued one walk and recorded a strikeout. The 36-year-old right-hander threw just 11 pitches overall, with the free pass he issued to Chris Davis his only hiccup. Morton ultimately threw one breaking pitch during the outing, a fact that Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports left the veteran pitcher displeased but manager Kevin Cash wholly unconcerned. "He's got how many years in the big leagues - 12? We're not going to value whether he throws one breaking ball or 10 in his first spring training outing," Cash said. Morton will have a chance to diversify his repertoire in a likely start at some point this coming weekend.
Morton appeared to be in "midseason form" during a 30-pitch live batting practice session Thursday, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports. The right-hander is coming off the best season of his career, one in which he established new career bests in innings (194.2), strikeouts (240), wins (16), ERA (3.05) and WHIP (1.08) across 33 starts. The fact Morton already looked exceedingly sharp during his first time facing hitters this spring is encouraging, and manager Kevin Cash emphasized the 36-year-old's breaking ball was especially effective during the session.
Morton will be available out of the bullpen for Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Astros on Thursday, Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle reports. Manager Kevin Cash confirmed that the 35-year-old will be ready to pitch in relief Thursday after throwing 93 pitches in Monday's win. In two starts this postseason, Morton has allowed two runs (one earned) on eight hits and five walks while recording 13 strikeouts in 10 innings pitched.
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