Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton has hit the injured list, which means his availability for the NLDS, even with a Wild Card bye, is unlikely.
Morton hits the 15-day list with finger inflammation, as reported by Justin Toscano.
He has the team's third-best WHIP among starting pitchers, and though he might not have been used until their opponent forced a longer-than-three-game series, his loss thins a rotation that has created some of the Braves only question marks so far this season.
It begs the question... Who will have to step up and start in place of Morton in the NLDS with his spot in the rotation now a lingering question mark?
Here are three players that could see starts at some point in place of Morton.
One thing the Braves should consider this postseason, NLDS and beyond, is employing an opener to start certain games. With a heightened intensity in the postseason, an opener can help a manager game-plan strategically, and manage the bullpen budget with a bit more reliability. It really gives the chance to script the first inning.
It doesn't always work, but when it does, it can be a great tone-setter for a game. It's also a fantastic way for teams with weak or thin rotations to shore up their defensive strategy to mask any deficiencies. The Braves' biggest question marks have been with their starting pitching, and now with the rotation thin, that'll be a more prominent issue to solve.
Pierce Johnson could be used as an opener, surely. The Braves acquired Johnson from the Rockies in a trade in late July, and getting out of the thin Denver air has proven to be exactly what he needed. In 39.0 innings in Denver, Johnson had a 1.846 WHIP and 6.00 ERA. With Atlanta, in 21.2 innings, his WHIP is below 1.0 and his ERA at 0.83.
Johnson is heating up, only allowing one earned run across his last 10 appearances, and two across his last 20. He's allowed two runs total since joining Atlanta.
If the playoffs started today, Atlanta would be matched against the winner of the Diamondbacks vs Phillies. Both lineups have one lefty in their standard top-three, a perfect matchup for the right-handed Johnson.
Therein lies the one problem: Johnson isn't great against lefties, and there will be at least one in both team's lineups that the Braves are likely to face. Career-long, Johnson has allowed a .542 slug to lefties compared to a .380 slug against right-handed batters. But if the Braves can script his pitches and approach against the lefties, maybe it can work.