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07/28/08 11:40 PM ET

Morton roughed up by Cardinals

Atlanta starter gives up eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings

ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren called an impromptu press conference during the sixth inning of Monday's game against the Cardinals, which is never a good sign when discussing the staff ace's MRI results.

So in the midst of the Braves' listless 12-3 loss to the Cardinals, and after revealing that Tim Hudson had a potentially serious elbow injury that would need to be further evaluated, Wren said "a yellow flag could be thrown for piling on."

A white one might have been more appropriate.

The slim playoff hopes that the Braves carried into this week took a serious hit Monday, when they needed to make six roster moves before the game and neared the realization that some injuries truly are too debilitating.

"It kills me to know that I'm sitting here in the clubhouse and I did what I just did, I didn't help the team at all," said Braves starter Charlie Morton, who was tagged for eight runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. "And to hear that things could be pretty bad for [Hudson], it's the worst news I had all night."

The Braves were already without arguably their two best hitters -- Chipper Jones (hamstring) and Brian McCann (concussion) -- on Monday. And their lackluster performance virtually assured that their other star, first baseman Mark Teixeira, won't be wearing a Braves uniform when Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline rolls around.

While the Braves were getting trounced on the field, Wren stood in the back of the Turner Field press box and answered questions regarding how these latest setbacks affected how he will approach the Trade Deadline. Wren said that, based on the mounting injuries, "I think it paints a pretty clear picture what we should do and need to do."

What the Braves really needed to do Monday was win, particularly after squandering five-run leads in both of their demoralizing losses to the Phillies this weekend. They never came close to leading Monday, falling in a 9-0 hole in the fifth inning.

"It's a better pitching staff than that, what's left of it," said manager Bobby Cox, whose Braves dropped a season-high seven games below .500 and trail the first-place Mets by 7 1/2 games in the National League East.

Braves pitchers have now allowed 34 runs in their past three games, which marked the first time since July 1986 that they had a three-game losing streak while allowing at least 10 runs in each contest.

Morton was the latest to be victimized.

Despite being optioned to Triple-A Richmond on Saturday, Morton stayed with the team in Philadelphia in case he was needed. And after Jo-Jo Reyes, Monday's projected starter, was forced into duty early Sunday, Braves officials told the lanky right-hander that he would start Monday's crucial game against the skidding Cardinals, who had dropped six of their past seven games entering this series.

That made Morton's poorest outing of the season even harder to stomach.

"You take the outings and you try to learn from it," Morton said. "But it doesn't make it any easier to deal with it. And at a time when the team needs somebody to come in and do a good job ... it makes me miserable."

With the Braves' starting rotation in flux -- or more appropriately in shambles -- they will still need to rely heavily on Morton in the coming months.

But the rookie inconsistencies that have dogged Morton this season again resurfaced on Monday. He was unable to locate all of his pitches, particularly his fastball. That inconsistency cost Reyes a spot in the starting rotation, as the left-hander was shipped to Richmond on Monday.

On a night filled with mistakes, the most egregious came in the third inning, when Yadier Molina lined a two-RBI double off the bottom of the wall in center field. Morton, who went to back up third base on the hit, watched as shortstop Yunel Escobar's cutoff throw sailed over the head of catcher Clint Sammons and caromed off the wall toward the first-base line. Teixeira picked up the ball and threw home as Molina, casually running the entire way, slid around the tag to make it 6-0.

The primarily pro-Cardinals crowd loved it, erupting with applause not heard in this stadium in several weeks.

"It's frustrating to not contribute and if anything, do the exact opposite," said Morton, who is 1-3 with a 9.53 ERA in his past five starts.

The Braves tacked on three runs late -- on run-scoring hits by Teixeira, Escobar and Mark Kotsay -- but the damage had already been done.

Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.