Brandon Morrow hopes using more slow pitches will mean faster innings this season.
The Toronto Blue Jays hard-throwing right-hander in the past has used an overpowering fastball and slider to rack up strikeouts.
But in his first four Grapefruit League starts he has concentrated on using his curveball and change-up and has allowed one run in 13 1/3 innings.
“I think it's something that needed to be done,” Morrow said. “Obviously I was getting it done striking guys out but (a 4.62 earned-run average) in the past two years isn't exactly what you want out of your No. 2 starter, so I don't care about anything other than that.”
By using his hard stuff so much, Morrow got strikeouts but also averaged 17.35 pitches an inning, the second highest total by a regular starter in the majors last season.
Toronto ace Ricky Romero averaged 15 pitches an inning last season, about average. Morrow said cutting down the pitches he needs for each inning would allow him to go deeper into games.
In his fourth start of spring training Morrow needed only 59 pitches for five innings when he one-hit Philadelphia on Thursday in a 2-0 victory. He needed to go to the bullpen to throw 15 more pitches to reach the pitch count target for the day.
In his second start of the spring he averaged 11 pitches an inning, over three innings.
“That comes with changing speeds, getting guys out in front, more contact,” he said. “I plan to continue to use that and hopefully get some quicker innings, quicker outs.”
He has averaged 4.04 pitches per plate appearance during his career (3.99 last year) and the major-league average is 3.81.
“I think I was close to averaging the most pitches per inning by a starter and maybe by anybody,” the 27-year-old said. “I've been up there my whole career so getting those quicker innings is encouraging.”
Morrow had 203 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings and had a league-leading 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings in going 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA in 30 starts in his second full season as a starter in 2011.
During the off-season, he signed a three-year contract that guarantees him US$20 million.
It's not a new idea for him to mix in his offspeed stuff more.
“We've been talking about it and working on it for the last two years,” he said. “There are times when I wanted to get those (offspeed) pitches over and maybe took a little bit off to get them in the strike zone and I would be more aggressive with it and (the hitters) could just lay off them. But now I think I'm throwing good quality breaking balls in the strike zone that they have to put in play.”
He did not begin using his slider in games until his fourth start. By not leaning on the slider, he is developing the confidence to use the curve and change-up more in the regular season.
“That's why I'm working on it so much this spring,” he said. “(Thursday) was the first day I've used my slider in a game so I'm not using that as a crutch where I could use that slider to get me out of some trouble. For the first few starts it was just change-ups and curveballs. That has really built confidence with them.
“I've been feeling really good about it. I think I've been doing a great job of changing speeds and throwing those pitches you know in fastball counts 2-1, 3-1 and getting some ground balls on it. Behind in the count and throwing that change-up and it's a great equalizer.”
He has a slightly different grip on his change-up this year, a modified split-fingered pitch.
Using this grip he said he can throw the change-up more consistently. It allows him to take a little more speed off his change-up than he could with the more common circle change that he used part of last season.
He also has used a split-fingered pitch as a change-up during his career, including part of last season, but more so when he was a reliever.
He also talks about developing a bit of an attitude on the mound.
“It's kind of a mind set of being aggressive with all your stuff and saying here hit this, hit this,” he said, “instead of just shying away with the breaking stuff because I didn't have as much confidence with my slower stuff as I did with my fastball and slider.”
But he emphasized, the attitude will have limits. “Definitely not throwing at guys,” he said. “Probably not yelling at anybody or doing anything like that.”
Just having quick innings will suit him just fine.