Braves’ Charlie Morton not seeing the same results on his best pitch

Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton is not having the same success this season with his curveball. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton is not having the same success this season with his curveball. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

PHOENIX — To Braves pitcher Charlie Morton, there are many reasons for his up-and-down season thus far.

But he sees one constant: His curveball, at least to this point, hasn’t been as dominant as in previous seasons.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Braves

Before Morton’s start on Tuesday, opposing hitters were batting .286 against his curveball, which he has thrown more than any other pitch.

“There have been games where it’s been really good, where I’ve thrown the same breaking ball that I’ve been throwing,” Morton said Monday. “But the macro numbers would say that the curveball would be the deciding factor between me being an average-to-mediocre pitcher and me being a good-to-great pitcher. That’s just been my reality for the past five years. I’ve lived and died by that pitch. And right now, they’re hitting like .300 off of it.”

Thus far, hitters are having more success against Morton’s curveball than they’ve experienced in quite some time. Their batting averages against that pitch have been dreadful in recent seasons.

In 2021, they hit .127 against it.

In 2020, they were .228 against it.

In 2019, they hit .151 versus the pitch.

In 2018, they hit .135 against it.

In 2017, they were .114 against it.

“It’s hard for me because it’s like, What do I do? What is the problem?” Morton said. “Is the problem that I’m just too old and my stuff is just declining? Or is it just that I’m throwing the ball differently? I would say the latter. I would say I’m throwing throwing plenty hard, and my curveball, it’s spinning well.”

“I've lived and died by that pitch. And right now, they're hitting like .300 off of it."

- Braves starter Charlie Morton, on his curveball

Putaway percentage is the rate of two-strike pitches that result in a strikeout. The putaway percentage on Morton’s curveball is 18.1% this season, which is much lower than his marks on that pitch over the past five years.

After Tuesday’s 8-7 loss in Arizona, the 38-year-old Morton has a 5.47 ERA through 10 starts. He allowed a two-run home run on a curveball in the first inning.

He has gone six innings only one time. He has allowed four or more earned runs five times.

Last season, Morton pitched to a 3.34 ERA over 33 starts. He struck out 216 batters, second only to the 240 he punched out in 2019.

Morton is a crucial part of the Braves’ rotation. In September, the team signed him to a one-year, $20 million extension with a $20 million club option for 2023.

He believes he only has to dial it in and ensure he executes well when throwing curveballs. He has been successful for so long for a reason.

“The spin’s been there; the speed has been there on it,” he said of his curveball. “It’s just not been performing the same for me.”

Olson says recent stretch is “not the defender that I am”

Following Monday’s loss, which included his missed catch, Matt Olson said this:

“There’s been some ground balls that I haven’t had the best footwork on, things like that. As far as missing a couple balls that are right at my chest and things like that, it’s frustrating but I know that’s not the defender that I am. I’ll take that and try to flush it. It’s tough when it’s affecting the vibes of the game.”

Olson, an All-Star first baseman, has two Gold Glove Awards to his name. He’s a great defensive player.

He has four errors this season – and has been sloppy other times – but this is probably only a blip. He’s proven himself before.

“The guy’s a very gifted defender,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s got that gold on his glove to show it. This game, you never figure it out, you’re just not immune from anything in this business. A lot of experiences and things that guys go through, there’s a lot going on in their lives and things. And playing this game, it’s not easy. That’s part of what makes it so hard to be successful in this game.”

Olson had four hits in Tuesday’s loss.

Tyler Matzek not throwing yet

Tyler Matzek (left shoulder inflammation) has been doing exercises, but is not throwing yet.

“I think he’s feeling really good,” Snitker said. “I think everything’s working. It’s just they have him on a timetable.”

The thought is that it will probably be a while before Matzek returns. He’ll need to go through a throwing program before heading out on a rehab assignment.

Until he is on a rehab assignment, he probably isn’t close to returning to the club.

Ronald Acuña at Coors Field?

After Wednesday’s series finale in Phoenix, the Braves will head to Coors Field, which boasts a vast outfield.

In other words, the Braves might have the best opportunity to succeed there with their best defensive outfield.

And to do that, Ronald Acuña has to be in right field, which pushes Marcell Ozuna out of left field and to designated hitter. Adam Duvall would play left field, with Michael Harris II in center field.

But the Braves remain cautious with Acuña. He hasn’t played on artificial turf surfaces, like at Globe Life Field in Texas and at American Family Field in Milwaukee. He didn’t play in the outfield in the opener at Chase Field, but was in right field on Tuesday.

Will he play all four games out there at Coors Field?

“I don’t know,” Snitker said. “Because it’s natural grass, hopefully we can get him out there for the series. It’s just going to be day to day – how he comes in, how he feels and all that. It would be nice because of (the big outfield) to have him out there.”