Astros' Morton returns to Philly to face former team (Jul 25, 2017)

BY AP • July 25, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Morton's last at-bat was certainly one to forget.

The Houston Astros right-hander takes the mound Tuesday night in Philadelphia against a Phillies club he started for four times in April 2016 before a hamstring injury knocked him out the remainder of the season.

His first at-bat in Citizens Bank Park will be his first overall since tearing a muscle running to first base on a bunt attempt on April 23, 2016.

That wasn't Morton's first or last trip to the DL. He also missed half of the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missed time in both 2014 and 2015 with hip inflammation. This year, Morton was out six weeks because of a lat strain.

"No more worried (about batting) than I am pitching," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I've gotten hurt pitching way more than I've gotten hurt running."

He has faced the Phillies five times in his career but hasn't generally pitched well, going 1-3 with an 8.22 ERA. This will be his first time going up against the club since 2011, when he gave up eight runs (six earned) in four innings of a 10-3 loss while he was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In his first season in Houston, Morton is 7-4 with a 4.18 ERA. In three starts since returning to the rotation after missing the entire month of June, he is 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA.

The Phillies' Tuesday starter, rookie Nick Pivetta (3-5, 5.58 ERA), has struggled mightily with his consistency.

He gave up three runs or fewer in three of his past four starts. His last time out, Pivetta allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings to beat the Marlins. The one time he got blasted recently, he gave up eight runs in the second inning alone (nine total) in a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 14.

"We've seen that with him before," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin told "He's pitched well, lost it for a while and got it back. Part of pitching up here is to realize what you need to do next."

Pivetta will start against the Astros for the first time in his career.

He must deal with a Houston offense that is putting up some serious numbers this season, including a 13-4 win in the series opener Monday night, a game that stretched into Tuesday morning thanks to a two-hour rain delay in the fourth inning.

The Astros (66-33) are led by second baseman Jose Altuve, who went 4-for-4 on Monday to raise his July batting average to .507 (38-for-75) and his season average to .365, tops in the major leagues.

"This guy continues to be amazing," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't know how else to describe him."

The scoring outburst was the sixth time this month the Astros have produced at least 10 runs in a game. They scored as many as 19 just before the All-Star break in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

"This is as good a team as we've seen," Mackanin said after the Monday night game. "They're very aggressive hitters, and you can't make mistakes."