Morrow learning how to pitch – and that's scary

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow throws during an inter-squad game at their MLB American...

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow throws during an inter-squad game at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 25, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

DUNEDIN — When a guy with the deadly weapons Brandon Morrow possesses starts to understand the difference between throwing and pitching, it’s really not a fair fight any more.

The rest of the American League can blame it on Shaun Marcum.

In his first full year as a starting pitcher, Morrow had a front-row seat to watch Marcum baffle hitters with his arsenal of trickery that tended to make his 88-mph fastball look like 98 after throwing a curve and a change that could be timed by a sun dial.

“Having Marcum around last year was huge for me, watching him compete with the stuff he has and how he gets guys out,” said Morrow after working two quick shutout innings in an intersquad game Friday.

“For me it was ‘Wow, he’s doing that with his 88 and 86 and with what he’s doing with the baseball.’ Watching that I learned that it doesn’t necessarily have to be 96. It’s where you throw it and how you compete and your deception, which pitches you’re throwing, mixing it up. Having Marcum as an example and having Jose (Molina) behind the plate was probably the biggest difference for me as a pitcher.”

Marcum is gone, traded to Milwaukee, but the damage is done. Morrow has seen the light. He’s not going to turn into a righthanded Jamie Moyer any time soon, but he knows that hard and harder is not always the answer. And he still has Molina as his guru to keep him real.

“Everybody likes to strike people out and I happen to be pretty good at it,” said Morrow. “If I get the batter in a hole, I’m going to try to punch him out.

“But if the situation dictates it — guy on first — I’m looking for that early groundball. It saves you a lot of pitches. There are situations where you’re trying to get a ground ball and get a double play.”

From across the diamond in the Boston dugout as the pitching coach of the Red Sox, John Farrell could see that Morrow was learning and learning fast.

“It became very clear that there was a more controlled effort level,” said Farrell. “You think back two years when he was a one-inning guy with Seattle, he would flash 98 to 100 at times. Now he’s a more complete pitcher, showing more feel, throwing his breaking ball for strikes, sinking the ball more.

“So, not only did he get a greater understanding of himself, but there was an increased confidence level where, for a period of about 15 starts last year, he was dominant.”

Morrow also made two mechanical changes suggested by pitching coach Bruce Walton. First he dropped his arm slot from straight overhand to a slightly sidearm position and second, he incorporated a more pronounced body turn, lingering for a crucial split second longer over the rubber.

“It gives him just a little bit more time over the rubber to leverage the ball downhill,” said Farrell. “With his kind of stuff, being able to command the bottom of the strike zone is a lethal combination.”

Cito Gaston wasn’t crazy about a pitcher having his own personal catcher but he stayed with the Morrow/Molina combo because it produced extraordinary results. Farrell seems less concerned.

“We haven’t set out a plan that Jose will be his personal catcher but, looking back it was a successful combination last year,” he said. “It might also be a natural fit.”

Farrell wants Molina to catch a couple of times a week so, why not make one of them a Morrow start?

Molina caught Morrow Friday and it was a seamless extension of how Morrow finished the year in 2010. He struck out four of the six men he faced, allowing only a walk to Travis d’Arnaud.

“I was on time with my release point and my mechanics,” said Morrow. “When that happens, the ball comes out good. I wasn’t trying to throw hard or anything but when I’m on time, the ball comes out good.”

Last season Morrow logged 146 innings before being shut down for most of the month of September, strictly a precautionary measure because of innings buildup.

Farrell says there is no hard innings number this year but there will be steps taken throughout the season to use off-days to effectively govern Morrow’s innings.

“There are going to be opportunities within the schedule, when we have a Thursday and a Monday off,” said Farrell. “He’s the one pitcher we think we can back out and maybe give him an extra bullpen to keep him sharp while managing his workload.”


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