Charlie Morton just reached 2,000 innings at age 40. How has he lasted when so many pitchers don't?

Charlie Morton just surpassed 2,000 career innings during another win for the Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Friday, May 10, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Friday, May 10, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) — Charlie Morton has made 17 postseason starts for 10 playoff teams and won two World Series titles.

After surpassing 2,000 major league innings Friday night during another win for the Atlanta Braves, he offered some thoughtful reflection on his 17-year career.

“There are times when I’m like, man, I’m ready to go home,” Morton said. "But these guys make it easy.”

Six months after his 40th birthday, Morton is still going strong with a 3-0 record and 3.14 ERA this season. He has 40 strikeouts against 14 walks in 43 innings, averaging better than six innings over seven starts.

The only other active pitchers to reach 2,000 career innings are Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and former Houston teammate Justin Verlander — all three likely headed to the Hall of Fame.

"That's a lot," Morton said following a 4-2 victory over the New York Mets. "I've accrued some innings in the minor leagues, too, so I feel like it's something to be proud of."

His early consistency, including a 1.73 ERA while compiling four consecutive quality starts, has been critical to a Braves team missing No. 1 starter Spencer Strider, sidelined by elbow surgery for the rest of the season after leading the majors in wins and strikeouts last year.

Morton has certainly endured his share of injuries throughout an up-and-down professional career since getting drafted 22 years ago by the Braves out of Joel Barlow High School in Connecticut.

But here he is, a two-time All-Star still throwing 95-96 mph at age 40 and pitching deep into games against the best hitters in the world.

“He amazes me every time he goes out there,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said, “2,000 innings and that ball’s still coming out of his hand like that.”

So in an era when so many pitchers get hurt, how has Morton been able to last this long after breaking into the big leagues in 2008?

“I’ve been allowed to throw a lot of pitches. I’ve been fortunate enough for my body to hold up enough to do it," he said. “And really what I tell guys is like, eventually you learn to throw without pain. Because pain’s a good indicator that you’re doing something wrong in your delivery.”

Morton fired seven magnificent innings against the Mets, allowing one run and three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. He threw 99 pitches, 65 for strikes.

“I feel good, especially early," Morton said. "Whereas I used to feel good probably carrying into the fourth or fifth inning, now it’s kind of like around inning three, it’s like, I've got to get a little crafty. But it’s also early, too. It’s early May. So I’m still getting in shape, my legs are getting under me a little bit.”

The right-hander improved to 133-113 overall with the Braves, Pirates, Phillies, Astros and Rays. He's also 7-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 18 postseason games, including a World Series win in relief when he got the final 12 outs for Houston in the Game 7 clincher against the Dodgers in 2017.

During the 2021 World Series with Atlanta, he even threw 16 pitches and got three outs — two via strikeout — after getting hit by a hard comebacker that ultimately knocked him out of Game 1 against Houston with a broken right leg.

Because his curveball is so good, Morton said sometimes he gets predictable and needs to remind himself on the mound, “C’mon Chuck, throw a heater.”

But his breaking pitches have been a huge key to success late in his career.

“I’ve become a little bit of a thumber. You know, throwing a lot of off speed. And surprisingly, there are times where my heater plays up," Morton said. “I think my delivery has gotten a lot better over time, and being on good teams. Being on teams with guys that care about each other, and coaches that are great. I have a great family that supports me, and friends.

“Honestly, I think just working out and throwing the ball the right way.”

Morton works out at a performance and conditioning facility in Florida called Athletic Edge in the offseason, building himself back up each winter.

“Most things hurt at this point. But I mean, I’ve been able to throw. I’ve been able to hone in my workouts. I’ve been able to get my flexibility to a degree where I think it’s pretty good,” he said. “I mean, I’m 40 years old. I know I’m not a spring chicken anymore.”

And after all those innings and all his success, there's plenty to be proud of — and thankful about.

“Going through multiple surgeries like in a short span of time, probably four or five surgeries in four or five years, I think things like that, where I was kind of like patting myself on the back a little bit, it's like, yeah, you kind of grinded it out,” Morton said.

"But then I think looking back, I just think I was blessed. I think I was lucky. I think a lot of things went my way even when I perceived them as not at times. And now I mean, I’m 20-something years into it. And shoot, I can still throw the ball hard. I can still spin it. And like, not many guys can at this age. So I think that’s just luck, a lot of it. ... Being able to stay relatively healthy, and being given time and some grace to figure some things out.”

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