Morton pitches despite arm fatigue

Morton pitches despite arm fatigue

PHILADELPHIA -- There was some thought about allowing Charlie Morton to rest for the remainder of the season. But Morton made himself available last week, and when Braves manager Bobby Cox was in desperate need to find a rested arm on Sunday afternoon, he sent Morton to the mound for two innings of relief.

"I wanted to throw," said Morton, who provided two scoreless innings against the Mets in what was his first appearance since Sept. 2. "[The Braves] had just wanted me to have a chance to take care of the issue."

The issue is some nagging discomfort that Morton has felt under his right scapula. Once he was shut down earlier this month, medical examinations showed no structural damage. The Braves' medical staff has told the 24-year-old right-hander that he needs to strengthen his shoulder and back muscles this winter.

"I don't even know what it is," Morton said. "It's just an issue that I need to take care of."

After making his Major League debut in June, Morton allowed two earned runs or less in each of his first three starts. But he then began feeling some discomfort and ended up going 3-7 with a 6.71 ERA in what were likely his final 12 starts this season.

While the Braves would certainly like to start somebody other than Jo-Jo Reyes during Wednesday's series finale against the Phillies, they don't have any other options and Morton doesn't qualify as a candidate. If he pitches again this year, it will once again be in a relief role.

Had their starting rotation not been wrecked by injuries, the Braves would have likely kept Morton at Triple-A Richmond most of this season. He didn't return to a starting role until the final weeks of the 2007 season, and before this year, he'd never thrown more than 124 2/3 innings during a professional season. That career-high total came in 2005 with Class A Rome.

Morton completed 153 2/3 innings with Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta this year. The increased workload may have been the primary reason he began feeling discomfort and noticing a difference in his arm strength this season.

"It feels good enough to pitch right now," Morton said. "I'm just going to have to strengthen that area."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.