All-Star Game 2018: Years of adjustments and coaching results to Charlie Morton's first appearance at age 34
Morton has unlocked all kinds of potential thanks to several years of adjustments to his game
WASHINGTON -- Charlie Morton is an All-Star; a deserving All-Star, in fact. Imagine thinking we'd ever see that back in, say, 2016?
The 34-year-old Morton has always had the potential. He just needed years of changes in his mechanics and approach to get to where he is now. He also dealt with several major injuries.
Morton's All-Star story actually starts all the back in 2011 with the Pirates. The previous year he was 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA. He would lower his ERA to 3.83 in 2011, though, thanks to some coaching from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and minor-league pitching coordinator and special assistant Jim Benedict.
"Ray Searage and Jim Benedict in Pittsburgh showed me video of Roy Halladay and they were showing me how he kept his head still and his arm slot was lower and how everything around his arm was quiet," Morton said. "I used to move my arm to throw over the top. I tried to be a fourseam/curveball guy and it wasn't working. When I moved my arm slot down, that's when I noticed that my ball just started moving a lot differently -- more sink and more run. Then I actually had a good year in 2011, so I was pretty hopeful."
As noted, he took a big chunk off his ERA, but then adversity struck.
"The next year I tore my ACL and my elbow, had [Tommy John surgery]. That was the end of the Roy Halladay tuck. From then on, it was just me relearning how to throw again. It's changing things here and there since then."
When things really started to turn for Morton -- who noted that he's always looked up to Halladay and Chris Carpenter -- was in his abbreviated stint with the Phillies.
"What changed when I went to the Astros, it actually started with the Phillies after the 2015 season. With the Phillies, I felt like I was throwing pretty well in 2016. I had a little more velocity in my fastball. I was really looking forward to 2016 and I was legging out a bunt, tore my hammy off the bone and the season was over. So then I signed a deal with the Astros that offseason and it wasn't just a pitching coach philosophy change. I think it was an organizational philosophy. It was to throw your best pitches more."
It wasn't just that, though. Morton's entire approach to pitching was about to change and it would take him to the next level, thanks to the Phillies and Astros front offices.
"I thought my best pitch was my sinker down-and-in to a righty," he said. "They were convinced that it was actually the pitches and locations that got swings and misses. I had never had that attitude before. My goal had always been to get you out in three pitches or less. And now if I get swings and misses I feel like I'm doing the right thing and if I get a groundball I'm like, 'oh man, I'm not doing it right.' And that manifested itself in the way I was pitching. Now I'm trying to throw hard. I'm trying to throw fourseamers. I didn't really do that before. I tried to get sinkers down in the zone. Now I'm trying to throw into areas instead of spots.
"I'm also throwing my curveball more," the 6-foot-5 righty continued. "When I was with the Phillies, they pulled me into an office and showed me numbers against the curveball in my career and they were like, 'do you see what's going on here?' I said 'that looks pretty good." They said 'you need to throw that pitch more.' The Astros echoed that when I came here. So now I throw fourseamers up in the zone, curveballs down and a changeup every once in a while."
The result for Morton in 2017 was a pretty good season. He was 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings. He was then excellent in the World Series, pitching to a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. He struck out 11, only walked one and won his first ring.
Morton then parlayed that into what is becoming easily the best season of his career. The change in approach with regard to missing bats has him with 146 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings (11.7 K/9; his previous career high was 10.0 and it was never higher than 7.2 before the Phillies and Astros changed his mindset).
The missing bats thing is clearly work in terms of run prevention, too, as Morton has a 2.96 ERA this season, which would easily be his career-best mark.
Truly one of the good people in the game, Morton is now one of the best pitchers in the game. It took years of injury adversity, coaching, a change in philosophy and much more, but he's here now.
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