7:12 PM Eastern
Granted, it was the Baltimore Orioles, and granted, the only major-league regular they brought to Dunedin was one who only became a regular because Brian Roberts was knocked out for basically all of last year with a concussion, but it was still a very impressive display by Brandon Morrow Monday afternoon at the FAES in helping the Blue Jays to their sixth straight win, which made it a Happy Birthday indeed for the inestimable Jerry Howarth.
Morrow used just 33 pitches to get through his three innings of one-hit shutout – there were times when he threw that many in a single inning last season – and he only missed with six. There were two strikeouts, two fly ball outs and six ground balls, including the one that got through to the left of Kelly Johnson for a game-opening single.
Morrow is trying to become less of a fascist and more of a democrat on the mound, to use Crash Davis-speak. Like Roy Halladay before him, he’s realizing that spreading the ball around leads to lower pitch counts and, by extension, longer outings. Last season, Morrow led the major leagues (among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title) with 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which was just a hair over his career rate of 10.1 per nine. But he also averaged just under six innings per start, and that’s something that needs to change.
He said after his outing (you can hear it below) that he left a couple of strikeouts on the table, which is to say he felt he could have had a couple more had he gone to his filthy slider in certain situations, but he stayed curveball-changeup because those were the pitches on which he had planned to work.
If Morrow can become more efficient with his pitches, not just dialing it up and trying to throw it through people which often results in a bunch of pitches just barely fouled off and many at-bats extended prior to an eventual strikeout or walk, and if he can involve his infielders more (remember, he only got one opponent to ground into a double play last year), then he could easily move into the upper echelon of starting pitchers in the big leagues and provide sensational support to Ricky Romero.
The Blue Jays had one big inning – against O’s righty Armando Galarraga – and it came because of their patience at the plate. They managed just two singles in the bottom of the fourth, but scored three runs because they managed to work three walks. Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus were both willing to pass the baton, and they were both on base when Travis Snider hit a moonshot to right field that kept carrying and carrying until it scraped the wr0ng side of the wall on the way down. Rasmus only took a few steps off first base, thinking correctly that the ball had a good chance to be caught, so Snider had to wait with him until the ball dropped and stayed at first with a single, but Johnson scored. A pop-out later, Yunel Escobar worked another walk to load the bases for Omar Vizquel, who deftly bladed a soft line drive over shortstop for a base hit that cashed a pair.
The other Jays’ run came because they won a bunch of lefty-on-lefty battles in the second inning. Against rookie Taiwanese southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, the Jays sent three lefties to the plate in the frame, and they all reached base. Johnson singled with a hard line drive to left, then stole second before being cashiered by Rasmus’ RBI double down the right-field line. Snider walked to continue the inning, but Chen struck out Jeff Mathis – Jays’ righties were 0-for-10 against the portsider, but he never got a lefty out.
Vizquel added to his defensive legend with a pair of highlight-reel plays. In the second, the crowd gasped as one when he bare-handed a ball out of the dirt in front of the third-base bag and threw on to first to retire Scott Beerer, but the best was yet to come as in the next inning, Vizquel ranged far to his right to snag a Robert Andino grounder, planted and made a great, strong throw all the way across the diamond to get the out. That’s the throw the Jays needed to see from him when camp began, and he provided it easily.
Deck McGuire retired all six hitters he faced to earn the save – his first since high school, he said – but I didn’t see any of his work because I was collecting the following audio in the clubhouse, for your listening pleasure:
First, here’s a one-on-one I did with Snider after his 1-for-2 effort:
Here are Morrow’s reflections on his performance:
And here’s a lengthy chat Jeff Blair and I had with Vizquel, along with a reporter from the Associated Press:
Tuesday, the Blue Jays send their main squad to Fort Myers to take on the Minnesota Twins, but a few big guns will stay back and head over to St. Petersburg for what they’re calling “Canada Day” – a B game against the Canadian National Junior Team. The inaugural game last year was a blast, with John McDonald and Aaron Hill coming over as well as most of the Canadians in the Jays’ system, and I’m expecting just as good a time this time around. It will be amazing to watch these kids, the under-18s, take on some big leaguers, and the Jays are bringing a few.
Brett Lawrie will make the trip again, of course, and he’ll be joined by Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Scott Richmond makes the start for the Jays, and fellow Canadians Trystan Magnuson, Michael Crouse, Marcus Knecht and Dalton Pompey will be there as well, along with Chris Woodward, whose wife is Canadian, so he almost counts.
The other members of the St. Pete travel squad will be Chad Beck, Jesse Chavez, Danny Farquhar, Ryan Tepera, Brian Bocock, Chris Hawkins, K.C. Hobson, Jack Murphy, Carlos Perez, Gustavo Pierre, Kellen Sweeney, Dickie Thon, Jr. and John Tolisano.
Brett Cecil will make the start against the Twins amid rumours that concerns over his spring are leading the Blue Jays to seek rotation help in the person of Joe Blanton or Gavin Floyd (reports that Alex Anthopoulos basically laughed off when I brought them up to him). Cecil is expected to throw three innings, and will be backed up by Luis Perez, Rick van den Hurk, Evan Crawford and Robert Coello. The others on the 7:30 AM bus to Fort Myers will be Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes, A.J. Jimenez, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Adeiny Hechavarria, Mike McCoy, Mike McDade, Luis Valbuena, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Ruben Gotay, Jake Marisnick, Danny Perales and Andy Burns.
Follow me on The Twitter for all the updates from the Team Canada game – you can find me @wilnerness590.
Also, tune into Sportsnet590 The Fan or listen live on this very website Monday night at 9:20PM Eastern when I join Jeff Sammut to talk all things Blue Jayic.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most, and promise that I’ll catch up to the ones in the queue soon.