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.
Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant leaves with bruised right hand after hit by pitch
NEW YORK — Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch from Taijuan Walker in the first inning and left Tuesday night’s game against the New York Mets in the middle of the second with what the team said was a bruised right hand.
Bryant initially stayed in the game after he was hit by a first-pitch 93.4 mph sinker, then went to run at first base.
He was at third base for the second time time since April 20 after also playing at the hot corner on Saturday against St. Louis. The 29-year-old has been primarily in left field this season but also has played nine games at first base.
In a 6-for-41 slide after a hot start, Bryant is batting .292 with 13 homers and 39 RBIs.
Alex Cora, knowing just ‘how embarrassing’ suspensions can be, speaks to Boston Red Sox pitching staff about rule changes
Alex Cora knows a thing or two about the public embarrassment that comes alongside a suspension in connection to a baseball cheating scandal, and the Boston Red Sox manager believes that the public shame should be enough in changing the behavior of players after Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that pitchers will be ejected and suspended for 10 games for using illegal foreign substances on the mound.
Cora addressed the rule changes with the Red Sox staff before their game against the Braves on Tuesday.
“I come from a suspension and I know how embarrassing that is and how tough that is not only on you as a person, but your family and your friends and the people that you love,” Cora said. “Ten games a year, two years, three years, it doesn’t matter. Being suspended is hell and you don’t want to go through that. I was very open to [the team] and hopefully they understand.”
In April of 2020, MLB announced that Cora would “be suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 postseason for his conduct as bench coach for the Houston Astros in 2017.”
This week, alongside every big league manager, Cora participated in a meeting led by MLB senior video president for on-field operations Mike Hill and league consultant Theo Epstein regarding the rule changes.
“This is one of those topics that is right now is loud,” Cora said. “Everyone is talking about it but hopefully after a week or two week, it’s enforced and we talk only about the game, forget about the sticky stuff or this and that. Talk about teams and what they are doing and their stories and something in the past and we can keep moving forward.”
Cora hopes that the rule changes will change the quality of the on-field product and allow more action to take place on the field.
“If this is as big as people see it and the information provided shows, maybe the stuff is going to come down a little bit. Throwing 99 and let it rip all of the time, it’s not going to play and you have to actually pitch instead of throw,” Cora said. “If that’s the case, maybe it’s a better quality of baseball. Pitchers are going to throw strikes and guys are going to put the ball in play and defense has to make plays, we’ll see how it goes. Stuff wise, it might come down a little bit but at the same time, athletic wise, we are at another level.
“These guys on the mound are bigger, stronger, more explosive so let’s see how it plays out, but stuff wise, it’s going to come down a little bit.”
Chicago White Sox’s Nick Madrigal out for rest of season after surgery on hamstring
He is expected to be ready for spring training next year, the team said.
“To have the surgery, it clears away some of the uncertainty. I think this way it’s a way to put it behind him and start fresh,” manager Tony La Russa said.
“It takes the decision out of him and he can take his time and make sure he’s 100%.”
Madrigal was helped off the field after he tried to beat out a grounder in the seventh inning of a 6-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on June 9. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft had been rounding into form, batting .365 (27-for-74) with two homers and 10 RBIs in his past 20 games.
Madrigal is one of three key position players sidelined for the first-place White Sox. Left fielder Eloy Jimenez ruptured his left pectoral tendon during spring training, and center fielder Luis Robert tore his right hip flexor in May.
Madrigal, 24, finishes the season with a .305 batting average, 10 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 21 RBIs.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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