It was last September, near the end of a long season, and Charlie Morton made up his mind before a start in Denver.

"For some reason," Morton said, "I just went out there and tried to throw the ball hard one game. I wound up throwing it harder."

He laughed Sunday, in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse, at the simplicity of the idea. Pitching is not simple. Morton, 32, knows this well. So he has trouble explaining a sharp uptick in his fastball velocity, but he is smart enough to know how important it is.

"I'm really excited about it," Morton said. "Hopefully I can maintain it going forward."

Morton's fastball, according to FanGraphs, has averaged 94 mph in his first three starts - which have produced mixed results. His fastball averaged 92 mph last season. When he was at his best, in 2013, his fastball averaged 92.8. 

He did well Sunday against a Washington lineup stacked with lefthanded hitters. Opposing teams do that often against Morton. Not until the sixth inning, when Morton lost his control and walked two batters, did the Nationals score.
Increased velocity or not, Morton is at his best when he keeps the ball down. He is a sinkerball pitcher. But the added speed has helped him miss more bats. That is never a bad thing for a pitcher who, before, relied more heavily on contact.
Morton's fastball touched 97 mph on Sunday.
"I feel like my arm is working really well," he said. "My timing is really good. I feel like my arm is quicker. I'm maintaining my pitch speed throughout the game, which is really promising. It's not just I go out there, throw hard, and it fades away."
The raw stuff generates some wonder about whether Morton could eventually benefit from a move to the bullpen. Just look at his first three starts as an indicator: Opposing batters, during the first time through the order, are 1 for 25 with nine strikeouts and two walks. But the second time through the order, it jumps to 9 for 23 with six strikeouts and three walks.
That September day in Denver, Morton was walloped. He allowed six runs on 10 hits. He lasted just 4 1/3 innings. But he learned something. It was drilled in his head that he was a sinkerball guy, a pitcher who had to keep the ball down and locate.
He has a great deal of natural talent, too.

"Against Colorado, I tried to let a few rip," Morton said. "I was throwing harder than I had the whole year. I don't know. I guess it carried over. I had a good offseason. I was healthy."