HOUSTON -- With all the talk about Astros pitcher Charlie Morton's increased velocity this spring and into the season, the veteran right-hander knows it doesn't mean much if he can't find a way to pitch deeper into games as the season progresses.
For the third consecutive start, Morton couldn't finish the sixth inning and wound up taking the loss in the Astros' 5-3 setback to the Indians. Morton (5-3) allowed four runs and eight hits -- including homers to Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall -- in 5 1/3 innings. Morton lasted 5 2/3 innings in his two previous starts.
"I felt out of sync," he said. "Some of those fastballs on pitches I got hurt, they're not on the plate or catching too much of the plate, but they're a little elevated. Same thing, the pitch to Chisenhall, I'm 0-2 on him and that's probably the most frustrating one right there ... I thought I executed it, and he turned and burned on it."
Getting through the opposition's order a third time has been an issue for Morton, who has pitched at least six innings only three times in nine starts this year. Unlike last week in New York when he started strong, Morton began facing trouble the second time through the order. Encarnacion's two-run homer in the fourth tied the game, and Kipnis (fifth inning) and Chisenhall (sixth) added solo shots.
"He seemed to always have to deal with some sort of mess," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Some of it his own and some of it just some really good hitting by the Indians. Obviously, through that sixth-inning hurdle that's been a little troublesome for him. All in all, he kept us in the game. I don't think he was at his best, and he fought through a little bit of delivery issues."
Morton said he was relying mostly on fastballs and curveballs and not throwing as many cutters and changeups as he needs to be effective.
"I think it's one of those things where execution has to be better," he said. "I have to be able to establish a second pitch, if not a third pitch, third time through the order. I went back and looked at some of those pitches. But I didn't really get a chance to look at how I got to those counts yet. I know I did it, but I want to know exactly where those pitches were because my perspective on the mound is different than what was going on."
In looking at video and working with pitching coach Brent Strom, Morton hopes to find answers.
"My stuff's plenty good to be OK later in the game," he said. "It's just not playing."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.