Morrow's Ride Ends In Rotation
This wasn't the plan for Brandon Morrow when the righthander was chosen fifth overall in the 2006 draft.
Neither he nor the Mariners expected him to be one of the mainstays of the Seattle bullpen this season. But he has been, despite virtually no minor league experience and having pitched almost exclusively as a starter.
"Really, he should be at Double-A, Triple-A or maybe a late-season callup," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said. "He has far exceeded our expectations."
Morrow, who finished the year with a 4.12 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 50 walks in 63 1⁄3 innings, was projected as a starter when he was drafted, and figures to start again, possibly next season. He changed the course of his development, though, by starring in spring training.
With righthanded setup man Rafael Soriano traded to the Braves and free agent righthander Chris Reitsma struggling to recover from arm surgery, Morrow was just too good to send down to refine his starting skills.
Morrow allowed one earned run and four hits in 81⁄3 spring training innings, earning him a spot in the Mariners' bullpen.
"When I was drafted, I never would have expected to be here (in Seattle) this year," he said. "But once it happened, my goal was to stay here all year."
Mission accomplished. At times, Morrow overmatched hitters with a fastball that reaches 98 mph.
"I am throwing almost all fastballs," he said. "At least 70 to 80 percent of the time."Keeping Control
The biggest issue for Morrow was his control. He walked 32 hitters in his first 29 1⁄3 innings. Since then, he walked a more reasonable 18 in 34 innings.
"The one thing I really wanted to do was work on my control, and that is something I felt I have done," he said. "I am definitely happy with how the season has gone."
Pitching coach Rafael Chaves said his improved control came with the help of some minor adjustments.
"We worked on getting a more consistent release point and keeping his head focused on the target," he said. "Like all young pitchers, he has had his ups and his downs, but he definitely proved he can get hitters out at this level. Overall, he's had a very good year for us."
Morrow's quick ascent is perhaps more remarkable considering the slow start to his professional career. He was sidelined by forearm soreness after being drafted last June out of California—and this was after he battled arm woes during his sophomore season with the Golden Bears in 2005.
In fact, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist wrote a satirical column claiming Morrow had hurt his arm picking up the telephone on a post-draft conference call.
Soon, several media outlets were reporting it as fact. Morrow was blissfully unaware until he received a call from Massachusetts, from the family that hosted him when he played in the Cape Cod Summer League.
"I got a call from my host brother, who was watching (Pardon the Interruption) on ESPN," Morrow said. "I didn't know what he was talking about."
While the cause may have been fiction, the soreness wasn't. Morrow spent most of the summer of 2006 at the Mariners' training complex in Peoria, Ariz., pitching just 13 innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League before getting sent to high Class A Inland Empire in the final week of the season. Morrow threw three hitless innings in his one outing with the 66ers.
That, he hopes, was his final appearance in the minors. Back In The Rotation
Despite a solid season as a reliever, the Mariners are sending Morrow to the Venezuelan League this winter to work as a starter. He will be given a chance to win a job in the big league rotation next year.
"We want him to work on his stamina, and we want him to add some pitches," Bavasi said.
Morrow said he will work on improving his slider and changeup. He admits to being a bit nervous about going to Venezuela for the first time, but is looking forward to pitching there. Though his career path might again lead him to starting, he also likes relief work.
"It really doesn't matter to me what I do," he said. "I really like coming in as a reliever in the late innings, with guys on base, but I also like starting and trying to make it at least five to seven innings."
One of those late-inning situations with runners on base was the highlight of Morrow's rookie season.
"It was against the Yankees, there were two out and the bases were loaded, and I struck out Alex Rodriguez," said Morrow, who helped preserve a 2-1 win on May 13. "He used to play here and the crowd got pretty excited."