The Astros are sending right-hander Charlie Morton to the 10-day disabled list with a lat strain, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (Twitter link). There’s no timetable for Morton’s return, and the club will recall righty Jordan Jankowski to take his place for now.
The DL is nothing new for Morton, who has had durability issues throughout his career and missed nearly all of last season as a member of the Phillies on account of a torn hamstring. Health concerns didn’t stop the Astros from handing Morton a two-year, $14MM contract in free agency last offseason, though, and the results have been encouraging – injury notwithstanding. The 33-year-old has been the Astros’ third-best starter, trailing the ace-caliber efforts of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, with a 4.06 ERA, 10.14 K/9, 3.59 BB/9 and a 51.3 percent ground-ball rate in 57 2/3 innings. Morton’s solid output has come thanks in part to a notable increase in velocity, as he’s now averaging 96-plus mph on his fastball – up from 95 in 2016 and the 92 to 94 range in previous years.
For now, though, Morton’s campaign will come to a halt, and it could be a for a while if others’ lat strains are any indication. To cite recent examples, Athletics righty Sonny Gray didn’t make his season debut until May 2 after suffering a lat strain in early March, and Angels reliever Huston Street hasn’t pitched yet this year after succumbing to a lat strain around the same time as Gray. Meanwhile, a more severe injury (a torn lat) has shelved Mets ace Noah Syndergaard for a few weeks and will keep him out until after the All-Star break.
Before losing Morton, the Astros were set to at least temporarily demote the scuffling Mike Fiers from their rotation in favor of Brad Peacock. Now, those two could be in line to join Keuchel, McCullers and Joe Musgrove in the starting five for the foreseeable future (alternatively, the Astros could move reliever Chris Devenski to the rotation, but that would take away an elite bullpen weapon). Unfortunately for Houston, top Triple-A options Francis Martes and David Paulino have started slowly this year, and Brady Rodgers underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month. At the big league level, mid-rotation starter Collin McHugh has missed the entire season with an elbow injury and won’t return anytime soon. On the bright side, the 34-16 Astros have built a whopping nine-game lead in the American League West. As such, it’s unlikely they’ll make any major moves to bolster their rotation with the trade deadline still two months away.