Braves right-hander Charlie Morton joins lefty Max Fried on injured list, can't pitch in NLDS

AP photo by Andrew Harnik / Atlanta Braves starter Charlie Morton pitches against the host Washington Nationals on Friday night.

WASHINGTON — Atlanta's injury-plagued rotation took another blow Sunday, when the Braves placed Charlie Morton on the 15-day injured list.

The move means the 39-year-old right-hander won't be eligible to pitch in the National League Division Series.

Morton (14-12, 3.64 ERA) left his start Friday night against the Washington Nationals after only one inning with pain in his right index finger. An MRI showed it was a sprain, Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday.

Morton won't be eligible to come off the IL until Oct. 7, which is after the Braves will have set their roster for the best-of-five NLDS. Atlanta clinched its sixth straight NL East Division title two weeks ago and entered Sunday with a 99-55 record, the best in Major League Baseball this season. With a week remaining in the regular season, the Braves have already earned a bye in the postseason's best-of-three opening round.

The only way Morton could be activated for the NLDS would be as a replacement for player who is injured in the NLDS.

"This isn't anything or any hill we haven't climbed before," Snitker said. "There is never good timing on that kind of stuff. Hopefully we have the depth to cover everything up and go on and be competitive."

The Braves, who are seeking their second World Series title in three years, are hopeful that Morton could return for the best-of-seven NL Championship Series if the team gets past the NLDS.

"The best-case scenario is he could be ready for that if we advance," Snitker said.

On Friday, the Braves placed ace left-hander Max Fried (8-1, 2.55) on the 15-day IL with a lingering blister, but he would be eligible to return for the NLDS if he's healthy.

Bryce Elder and Spencer Strider have been the only full-time starters in Atlanta's rotation to make it through this season without any physical setbacks. Fried, runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award a year ago, has been on the IL three times while making only 14 starts, although the Braves are cautiously optimistic he will recover in time for the start of the playoffs.

"It's just one of those hurdles you have to handle and adjustments you have to make," Snitker said. "You put things together and maybe do some things you wouldn't normally do to get through."

Kyle Wright, a 21-game winner in 2022, has missed most of the season due to injury and only returned to the rotation this month. He entered Sunday 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA, though, and doesn't appear to be a viable option for the postseason rotation.

Wright had been scheduled to start the first game of Sunday's doubleheader in Washington, but the Braves shifted him to the bullpen to see if he might be effective in that role ahead of the postseason.

"Maybe we can limit some of his innings, hopefully get a look at him for more than just a start," Snitker said before the doubleheader. "It's more about not taxing him as much and getting more out of him."

Wright pitched the final three innings in the first game against the Nationals, who won 3-2, with the 27-year-old right-hander allowing one run and three hits with two strikeouts and no walks.

The late-season woes are a grim reminder of what happened to the Braves a year ago, when Fried dealt with illness and Strider was slowed by an oblique strain. Both pitchers were rocked in losses during the NLDS as the wild-card Philadelphia Phillies upset Atlanta in four games.

Thanks to three potential off days, the Braves could get by with only three starters in this year's NLDS, but with Morton sidelined and Fried's status in doubt, they may have to turn to an unlikely option to fill the third spot.

This season, 16 pitchers have made starts for Atlanta, including right-hander Allan Winans, who was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and started Sunday's first game against the Nationals. He allowed two runs and seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks in five innings before being relieved by Wright.

Strider was set to go in the second game, a makeup of the Saturday matchup that was postponed late Friday night because of inclement weather in the forecast.

"Everything is on the table," Snitker said. "We'll just have to wait and see."