When the Atlanta Braves open a three-game series at the Miami Marlins on Friday, the pitching matchup will feature a sharp contrast in experience.
The Braves will start 37-year-old veteran right-hander Charlie Morton (7-3, 3.91 ERA). The Marlins will start 27-year-old rookie right-hander Zach Thompson (2-2, 2.25 ERA).
Thompson, who made his MLB debut on June 7, has just five major-league starts under his proverbial belt, including two against the Braves. On June 12, he beat the Braves 4-2, striking out six batters in five scoreless innings.
Then, this past Sunday, Thompson turned in a quality start with three runs allowed in six innings, leaving the game with a lead. The Braves, however, rallied against Miami’s bullpen, winning 8-7.
Thompson — who went six innings, striking out 11 batters in a win over the Washington Nationals a week before that – seems to be growing more confident as his season progresses.
“As long as I can keep us in a good position to win the game, that’s really important to me,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, six innings can be sort of normal for me, and I can go even longer.”
Morton has made 16 career starts against the Marlins, sporting a 7-5 record with a 4.42 ERA. This year, however, Morton is 0-1 with a 7.63 ERA in three starts against Miami.
Four catchers have caught Morton this year, and William Contreras fared the best with a 2.96 ERA in nine games. However, Contreras was sent back to Triple-A on Thursday.
That leaves two options to catch Morton: Jonathan Lucroy, a two-time All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers who is on the comeback trail from injuries and was recalled from the minors on Thursday, and backup Kevan Smith.
Lucroy has never caught Morton. Smith has caught Morton four times — with a 4.41 ERA – and just once this year.
Morton, who has a wicked curveball, has struck out 107 batters in 92 innings this year. He has punched out 19 Marlins batters in 15 1/3 innings this year.
The Braves are 9-8 when Morton starts, including 7-2 in his past nine outings.
Morton’s best recent start happened on June 22, when he beat the New York Mets 3-0 for career win No. 100. Morton allowed just one hit in seven innings, striking out 11 batters.
“It took me a really long time,” Morton said of the 100 milestone. “But I’m glad I got there with this group.”
That Braves group has struggled of late. Despite having three 2021 All-Stars in their lineup – first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. – the Braves have lost three of their past five games. They will have to sweep this weekend’s series to go into the All-Star break with a winning record.
Albies, who left Wednesday’s 14-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates due to a stiff neck, is expected to play on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Marlins have been playing really well of late, taking three of four games this week from the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
During Thursday’s Marlins broadcast of their series finale against the Dodgers, it was announced that Miami manager Don Mattingly’s contract has been retained for the 2022 season.
–Field Level Media