By FRED GOODALL AP Sports Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — No one has tell the Houston Astros how good Charlie Morton can be.
The 35-year-old right-hander was solid in his debut for the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, pitching five innings and striking out eight against his former team in a 4-2 victory.
“It was an awesome experience,” Morton said, noting it was every bit as “weird” as he envisioned facing the club he helped win a World Series two seasons ago.
“It was the fact I was out there against my former team. I was a little emotional, and it was the first start of the season,” he added. “To get it out of the way and come out with a great team win, it was a big deal.”
Morton (1-0) allowed two runs and three hits in his first outing since signing a $30 million, two-year contract as a free agent. In 2017, he won Game 7 of the World Series and Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
Yandy Diaz lined an impressive solo homer off Astros starter Gerrit Cole (0-1), who also yielded three unearned runs in the third, when shortstop Aledmys Diaz’s throwing error paved the way for Tampa Bay. Diaz has two errors in two games filling in for injured regular Carlos Correa.
Tommy Pham’s RBI single trimmed Houston’s lead to 2-1, and Ji-Man Choi followed with a two-run single to put the Rays ahead 3-2.
Morton, who gave up a two-run double to Michael Brantley in the third, walked three and also hit a batter during an 85-pitch outing.
“The same stuff we’ve seen for a couple years,” Astros manager AJ Hinch. “He had a really good breaking ball, a pretty good fastball. Mixed in some splits late, swing and miss breaking balls. He’s tough.”
Cole was impressed, too.
“He was sharp. He looks good. About right where we expected him to be,” the Houston pitcher said. “Worth every dollar of that 30-million contract.”
Four relievers combined to pitch four scoreless innings for the Rays, with Jose Alvarado striking out Tony Kemp with two runners on in the ninth for his first save.
It’s not the first time Morton faced a former team in his first outing with a new one. He also did it in 2009 after being traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The right-hander went 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA in 55 starts for Houston over the past two seasons. He was a first-time All-Star a year ago, when he won 15 games and posted a career-best 3.13 ERA.
Cole allowed five hits and four runs — one earned — while striking out 10 over six innings.
According to StatCast, the 420-foot, sixth-inning homer he yielded to Yandy Diaz on a 2-0 count left the bat at 112 mph. The low liner to straightaway center field rose just enough to hit the top of the wall and skipped over.
“I challenged Diaz with a fastball and lost that one,” Cole said. “It was out of a cannon, man.”
When Houston’s Alex Bregman went 0 for 4 in Thursday’s season opener, it ended his 56-game road on-base streak. It was a franchise best and the longest of any player since Derek Jeter’s 59-game run in 2006-07. Bregman also had a 17-game hitting streak against the Rays stopped. The third baseman was 0 for 4 again Friday.
Plate umpire Dan Iassogna recovered quickly to a call a strike after getting hit by a pitch on the knee in the third inning. Iassogna briefly went down when Rays catcher Mike Zunino was crossed up and failed to catch a pitch from Morton to Jose Altuve. After taking a moment to collect himself, Iassogna got back to work and called the pitch a strike.
Astros: Correa missed his second straight game with neck stiffness and is not expected to play Saturday, either. “I think we’re getting to the point where he’s going to have to do a full workout before he’s ready to play,” Hinch said. “Hopefully that’s tomorrow, which makes Sunday more likely. I will wait a day too long rather than a day too short.”
Rays: Alvarado rolled an ankle while running but was able to walk back to the clubhouse after sitting on the warning track in right field for several minutes.
Astros: RHP Collin McHugh (6-2, 1.99 ERA in 2018) will start the third game of the four-game series Saturday night. He’s 1-4 with a 2.12 in seven career appearances against Tampa Bay, including five starts.
Rays: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-7, 4.27 ERA last season) faces Houston for the first time in his career. He made 11 starts for the Rays after being acquired from Pittsburgh last July, allowing one run or fewer in five of those outings.
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