Heading into the 2012 season one of the goals of the Toronto Blue Jays was making sure that pitcher Brandon Morrow was well-grounded.
Not in the mental sense. That’s an area the laid-back 27-year-old Californian appears to have well in hand.
What we’re talking here is what comes out of his hand and the subsequent action of opposing hitters.
Morrow was making his second start for the Blue Jays on Friday night at Rogers Centre in the first of a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles.
Through his first five seasons as a major-leaguer Morrow was what you would describe as a fly-ball pitcher. Absurdly so.
Last season, Morrow produced 309 fly-ball outs in his 30 starts, an average of 10.3 an outing. Morrow totalled 181 outs via the ground ball, a 6.03 per-game average.
Morrow’s ground ball to fly ball ratio (G/F) worked out to 0.59, the fourth lowest ratio among regular American League starters. It obviously helped Morrow that his rate of 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings was the best of any AL hurler.
A low G/F ratio can signify that a pitcher is often flirting with danger, that he’s susceptible to giving up the home run.
In Morrow’s case the problem manifested itself by denying him relief from the pitcher’s best friend – the double play.
Incredibly, during the 2011 season, Morrow only had one double play turned behind him.
While Morrow would go on to post career highs in wins (11), innings pitched (179 1/3), starts and strikeouts, the Blue Jays felt Morrow would be better served if he could induce more ground-ball outs.
“Anytime he gets guys on base, or he’s pitching out of jams, he didn’t have that luxury where he could try to rely on the double play,” Blue Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton said. “That’s huge in the game of baseball when you get that two outs with one ground ball.
“Those pitches are huge and he just didn’t really have the knack to do that with the way his stuff’s designed.”
Walton went to work with Morrow after the season ended and he is hoping the resulting makeover will help the power pitcher produce a few more wins.
The fix sounds relatively simple, just convincing Morrow that he didn’t have to throw to his maximum effort each time and mix up his pitches a bit better.
“He’s using his breaking ball a lot more,” Walton said. “He’s using his slider. And he’s throwing his change-up a lot more than he has in the past. So I think the differences in speed gets the hitters more out in front and it winds up as more grounders as a result.”
The change had the desired affect in Morrow’s first start in Cleveland last Saturday where he allowed one hit over seven innings but did not get the decision in a 7-4 Toronto victory in 12 innings. He had 10 ground-ball outs and just eight fly-outs in the game.
And the Blue Jays turned a double play for him while he was on the mound, equalling his 2011 total in his first outing.
Through seven innings of work, he had seven ground-ball outs and nine through the air. Morrow also surrendered two home runs.
Morrow wasn’t as effective as he was in his first start against Cleveland and the Blue Jays (4-3) bullpen stumbled as the Orioles (4-3) recorded a 7-5 victory before 21,988 fans.
While Kelly Johnson, Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escobar and Edwin Encarnacion all clouted home runs for Toronto, the key hit in the game was delivered by Baltimore’s Wilson Betemit in the eighth inning.
Betemit singled with the bases loaded off Toronto reliever Darren Oliver that scored two runs and put the Orioles ahead 6-5.
Nolan Reimold homered for the Orioles in the top of the ninth, one of three they had in the game.
“Kind of an odd game here tonight at the ballpark,” Farrell said, noting all the home runs that were struck and a couple of other Baltimore hits that barely cleared the infield but played a role in the Baltimore win.
As for Morrow’s performance, Farrell said he thought he pitched decently.
"I thought Brandon elevated a couple of pitches that were squared up,” Farrell said. “But I think as the middle innings came along his stuff got more sharp.”
The Blue Jays played Friday’s game without the services of closer Sergio Santos, who flew home to California to join his wife for the birth of their third child.
Santos, who is expected back in time for Saturday’s game, was placed on what’s called the paternity list, allowing the Blue Jays to recall left-handed reliever Evan Crawford from Double-A New Hampshire.
Crawford didn’t mind that he was, in effect, a paternity replacement thanks to Santos.
“Greatest baby ever,” Crawford beamed from the field at Rogers Centre on Friday after arriving in Toronto.