Griffin: Efficient Morrow masterful in Blue Jays win over Angels
ANAHEIM-Entering the four-game series at Angel Stadium, it had been the home team's pitching making headlines. But on Thursday, it was Jays' righthander Brandon Morrow pitting a halt to the Angels' modest three-game win streak with a 5-0 shutout over Dan Haren for his third straight impressive win. The Jays have now won three in a row and are at 15-11 for the season.
The Angels had entered the series with back-to-back shutouts by Jerome Williams and Jered Weaver, the latter being a no-hitter. Haren after two had extended his team's hitless streak to 17 innings before Brett Lawrie led off the third with a line drive single to right. Haren allowed four straight hits before righting the ship, but that included a three-run homer to left by J.P. Arencibia, his second. Arencibia is hitting .333 in his last 12 games. It made it easier on Morrow, but did he actually need the help?
“It's obvious three runs is a huge cushion as far as the pitch selection, how you pitch guys,” Arencibia explained. “You can kind of gamble a little bit more on different pitches. With the way he was out there tonight a couple runs was all he was going to need to be able to win that game.”
But the story of the night was the Jays' righthander, Morrow, with the electric stuff. He tossed his second career complete game and his first since a one-hitter against Tampa Bay on August 8, 2010. That start two years ago was considered a breakout performance for Morrow with 17 strikeouts, but mostly because of pitch count struggles, he was not able to go nine innings again until Thursday.
“I missed more bats that night, but I think I pitched better tonight,” Morrow said. “My fastball command was really what did it for me. That's probably the best I've ever been with that. I felt like I could have hit the down and away strike with my eyes closed tonight.
“When we get that early lead and you keep your pitch count down, you're thinking complete game. I didn't throw any changeups. I threw two curveballs. I was just doing it with fastball command. I threw it where I wanted to every time. I was able to dial it up, change speeds.”
This supreme Morrow effort was a three-hitter, needing just 102 pitches. Since losing to the Rays on April 18, this year, Morrow has defeated the Royals, M's and Angels, working 21-2/3 innings, allowing one run on 15 hits, with one walk and 19 strikeouts. He has faced 52 straight batters without issuing a base-on-balls. He may finally be getting it.
“By far,” Jays manager John Farrell said when asked if that was the best Morrow he's seen. “That's the best game I've seen him pitch. Just a powerful fastball, he was down in the zone all night, very good slider. They're an aggressive team. Once you throw a first-pitch strike and continue to locate, which he did, we played good defence behind him. When he enters the ninth inning with 84 pitches, he still had plenty left. That was evident by the command and to finish it off like he did was just one heck of a pitched ballgame for him.”
As spring training unfolded, it seemed a deep-thinking Morrow was ignoring his ability to blow people away in favour of the other option, pitching more to contact and thus, theoretically, going deeper into games.
By pitching to contact as a priority, he was leaving too many hittable pitches and the results were not what he wanted. In his first three starts he allowed six home runs.
“We talked about how his arm strength continues to come along and the improved command with his overall stuff and that was certainly the case tonight,” Farrell said.
“We played excellent defence behind him, Brett (Lawrie) almost a highlight reel. A couple of double plays, Eric (Thames) runs one down in left field. But anytime you have a pitcher throwing 73-74-percent strikes, no walks with that kind of power stuff it's fun to watch for any baseball fan.”
The question for Morrow becomes do you want a starter pitching into the eighth allowing four runs on 100 pitches or throwing six shutout with the same 100 pitches.
In Thursday's efficiently effective start, Morrow needed just 85 pitches to get through eight innings. He has proved he can win either way, looking for contact early or looking for missed bats late. His manager feels he is getting stronger as the season unfolds, leading to more effective movement on his fastball.
“I feel like I have a little bit better life on it,” Morrow admitted. “Maybe not velocity, but better life, especially down in the zone than I did the first couple of starts. I'm really starting to get into the rhythm, mechanically. I hit that down and away pretty much every time I wanted to and I elevated every time I wanted to, both sides of the plate. The defence was great. The two double plays, I like it. Two for one, I'll take that over throwing 12 pitches to strike a couple of guys out anytime.”
Morrow's batterymate, Arencibia believes that the way the righthander pitched on Thursday, it makes him one of the toughest pitchers in the game.
“Hands down, I think he's developed into that he doesn't just have to strike everybody out,” Arencibia said. “He can get outs early, especially getting ahead of guys. It's pretty crazy, I remember looking up at the screen and it was like the sixth inning and he was in the 50s in pitches. I said, man this is unbelievable. That's pretty special to be able to do, especially against a team that the lineup top-to-bottom is one of the best lineups in the big leagues. To be able to do that is pretty special.”
The Jays added a pair of runs in the sixth inning on a throwing error by Mark Trumbo with two out and two runners on the move. With Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar on base and two outs, Edwin Encarnacion grounded a ball to third. Trumbo's throw faded into the runner's path and Albery Pujols shied away letting the ball carom off the screen in front of the Jays' dugout. Before Howie Kendrick could recover the ball, Escobar hustled all the way around for a second unearned run.
“We scored three quick runs in the third and the way Brandon was rolling the two extra that were somewhat of a gift began to spread things out,” Farrell explained.
With the 3-4-5-6 spots in the Jays order combining to go hitless in 16 at-bats, it was the flip-flopped top two in the order, plus the bottom three that got the job done. It was the second straight win, with 16 runs scored in two games with Johnson batting leadoff and Escobar second.
The Jays received further good news after the game from the office of Dr. Lewis Yocum. Jays' closer Sergio Santos' MRI was clear and he will be able to resume a throwing program on Tuesday.