Morton ‘excited’ to return to Braves decade later

MLB

ATLANTA — Charlie Morton is back with the team where his big league career started.

Not that he has a lot of memories from that rookie season with the Atlanta Braves.

“That was 11 years ago,” Morton said Wednesday.

Actually, it was 12.

“I don’t remember a whole lot about it,” he continued. “I was only with the Braves in the big leagues for about four months.”

Morton returned to the Braves after agreeing to a $15 million, one-year contract, further bolstering the rotation of a team that came within one victory of reaching the World Series.

While only a handful of people Morton knows are still in the organization, he said he was impressed by what he saw from afar.

“This is as talented a group as you’re going to find,” he said. “I’m excited to get in that clubhouse, be around them and get to know them.”

Morton, 37, lives in Bradenton, Florida, and had hoped to return to the Tampa Bay Rays for a third season. But the team declined his $15 million option, so he settled for the next best choice.

Returning to the Braves.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos made it clear right away that he was interested in Morton, especially after the Braves struggled throughout the shortened 2020 season to put together an effective rotation.

“They were aggressive early,” Morton said. “They were one of the first teams to call. Alex was checking in frequently.”

With four young children, Morton said proximity to home was the most important factor in his decision. Atlanta is a short flight from the Tampa Bay area. The Braves’ spring training complex in North Port is less than an hour’s drive away.

“My hope was that we could stay close to home,” Morton said. “The situation in Tampa was awesome.”

Morton was called up by the Braves in 2008. He made 15 starts on a team that lost 90 games, going 4-8 with a 6.15 ERA.

He was back in Triple-A the following year when the Braves dealt him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a package of prospects for Nate McLouth.

Morton turned out to be quite the late bloomer, breaking through with the best years of his career well into his 30s. He went 29-10 over two seasons with the Houston Astros, making the All-Star Game for the first time at age 34. He moved on to the Rays in 2019, going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA and making the Midsummer Classic for the second time.

Along the way, Morton has become one of baseball’s greatest postseason pitchers. The right-hander is the first hurler in big league history to earn four victories in winner-take-all playoff games.

After going 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts this past season, he burnished his clutch credentials by winning three more games in the playoffs. His streak of seven straight postseason wins finally ended with a Game 3 loss to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Morton certainly has a chance to get back to the playoffs with the Braves, who have captured three straight NL East titles. He joins another free-agent acquisition, Drew Smyly, in a rotation led by Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie sensation Ian Anderson, who is only 22.

Atlanta is also counting on the recovery of another budding star, 23-year-old Mike Soroka, who went down this past season with a torn Achilles. When the rotation is at full strength, it should be one of the best groups in all of baseball.

“They’ve got some really good pitchers,” Morton said. “I didn’t realize how young they were were. I looked them up and I was like, ‘Dang.'”

You’ll have to excuse his lack of knowledge about the Braves.

It’s been a while.

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