Morrow's No. 2 and trying harder

Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow throws during practice at the club's spring training facility in...

Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow throws during practice at the club's spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Feb. 22, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 PM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - For the Blue Jays to live up to their own expectations this season, a lot of players are going to have to take a step forward. Nobody understands that better than pitcher Brandon Morrow.

The onus is on the starting rotation to find a way to get deeper into games and, as the No. 2 man behind Ricky Romero, Morrow is one of the pitchers who will have to find a way to do just that.

That’s why, as the spring unfolds, you’re going to see fewer fastballs and more curves and changeups when Morrow pitches because the best way for him to get quick outs is to not allow opposing hitters to sit on his fastball and slider.

Wednesday, against the Boston Red Sox, Morrow unleashed a barrage of curves and changes, working two scoreless innings. The only blemish was a leadoff double in the first inning. He erased the next six batters in order.

“Felt good, felt on time with my body and mechanics,” he said. “I wasn’t rushing, got my hand out on my offspeed stuff, wasn’t rushing. I thought I threw the ball well.”

Morrow has all the makings to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has the upper 90’s fastball, a hard slider and the burgeoning curveball that manager John Farrell hopes will give his velocity some separation.

“On a given night he pitched as an elite starter in this league,” said Farrell, thinking back to 2011. “Carrying that out to 32 or 34 starts, I think he’s settled into that effort level that works best for him. He’s realized that his curve ball is important for him to create that separation in velocity. Those are things that are part of him maturing as a pitcher.”

So the Red Sox, accustomed to seeing Morrow’s hard fastball and hard slider, instead were dealt offspeed stuff.

“A lot of curveballs and a lot of changeups,” he said. “That’s been my focus since Day 1 and I’m going to continue that through the spring.

“It’s big and that’s why I’ve talked about it all the time about changing speeds. We made it pretty clear at the end of last off-season that that’s what I wanted to do and that curveball is probably going to be my best option for that.

“I tried to throw everything for a strike out there today and I think I was pretty much right on with all of my curveballs.”

Morrow has been a full-time starter for only two seasons and his innings buildup has been managed carefully by the Jays. Now, there is no innings limit and the team would love to see 200-plus innings beside Morrow’s name.

To do that, he must throw the curve for strikes. In the American League East, plate discipline is like a religion. The Tampas, the Yankees and the Red Sox do not chase, as a rule, outside the strike zone.

“That’s why starters earn the money they do,” says Farrell. “You can’t hide. You’ve got to get people out in the strike zone, with late action and a lot of confidence. On days when it’s not going your way, how do you grind through to get deeper into the game and save the bullpen?

“You have to throw strikes and, as much as possible keep the ball on the ground rather than have things blowing up on you and forcing the bullpen to wear it. That affects not only tomorrow but potentially the next three days.”

In the past, Morrow often teamed up with catcher Bengie Molina, who is a master at managing pitchers. Molina is no longer with the team and, certainly, Morrow has no qualms throwing to J.P. Arencibia but backup catcher Jeff Mathis has a well-earned reputation as a superb game manager.

“I know he’s always been a defence first guy, always did a great job behind the dish, always had a good reputation as a pitch caller and receiver,” said Morrow.

Morrow reached his innings limit almost on the button at 180 innings last year but he didn’t feel the restriction in the same way he had the year before because last year, he missed the first three weeks of the season with a sore forearm.

“I kind of felt that we weren’t really worried about getting too many innings because I pitched through the end of the year and reached that innings limit kind of right where we wanted to be,” he said.

“I feel good this year to be able to go out and I want to hopefully give more innings per game and get to that innings point quicker. I think staying on that plan that we had the past two years definitely prepared me to do that this year.”

In the off-season, the Blue Jays made no secret of their pursuit of a quality starter, either through trade or free agency. There weren’t that many decent free agents and the ones that were out there were ridiculously expensive. The trade market was equally expensive in terms of talent and we’re hearing most trade discussions began and ended with the name Brett Lawrie. That was not happening.

“We know we can do the job already,” says Morrow, “but I think everybody is always looking for more pitching. It doesn’t offend (the pitching staff) to have that said.

“We definitely did some things good last year but there’s definitely some things we could have done better. We didn’t add that arm but I think we definitely have the guys that can do it, if we pitch up to our abilities.”


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