CHICAGO - With a bit of selective amnesia -- and maybe even without it -- you can make quite a case for Brandon Morrow as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff.
Wednesday, Morrow tossed his second complete-game shutout in his last four starts, a 4-0, two-hit defeat of the Chicago White Sox. It was his seventh win of the year, matching Ricky Romero for the team lead.
More to the point, Morrow has evolved into a dominant pitcher with pin-point control who has the savvy to let his defence do the work and the ability to reach back when necessary.
In Wednesday's game, he gave up two singles, both to A.J. Pierzynski, and didn’t walk a batter until he allowed two in the ninth inning. One other batter, Adam Dunn, reached base on an error. One of the Pierzynski singles was erased after pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge was caught stealing in the eighth.
“It was almost all fastball-slider,” said Morrow. “I threw a few changeups to the lefthanders to try to keep them honest. But when I’ve had fastball command, down, on both sides of the plate, that’s when I’ve been at my best and that’s what I had tonight.”
With two outs in the ninth, runners at first and third and Dayan Viciedo at the plate, Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia made a difficult block of a bounced slider that saved a run and preserved the shutout.
“I would have caught that ball with my teeth if I had to,” said Arencibia. “There was no way that ball was getting by me.”
In the process, Morrow lowered his earned-run average to 2.90. If you choose, as Morrow has, to completely forget his horrid appearance against the Texas Rangers two starts ago when he allowed six runs and didn’t get out of the first inning, his ERA would be a league-leading 2.21. In another game, May 14 against the Tampa Bay Rays, a scoring change that came out of the MLB office days later turned an error by Jays first baseman Adam Lind into a single for Matt Joyce and five unearned runs into earned runs for Morrow. If that, too, didn’t happen, Morrow’s ERA would be under 2.00.
“Lot of first outs of every inning,” said Jays manager John Farrell. “Just a dominant performance. He was a two-pitch guy ... fastball, slider. The slider had a lot of power, a lot of depth.
“He stayed out of the middle of the plate all night long. We knew coming into this series that (the Sox) have been aggressive at the plate. They’re going to swing the bat and try to make some early contact and he pitched to quality location right from the get-go.”
The Jays manufactured a run in the fifth and made it 2-0 on a Jose Bautista home run in the sixth. Rajai Davis finally gave Morrow some breathing room with his third hit, a two-run homer in the ninth.
“When you think of Rajai’s homer,” said Farrell, “that provided the cushion for Brandon to finish it.”
However you do the math, Romero will gladly share his ace status if Morrow can keep evolving into the complete pitcher that he previously only showed flashes of being.
With back-to-back Toronto wins to start this series, the Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time since May 15-16. Prior to the Jays' arrival in Chicago, the Sox had won 14 of their previous 16 games and their Central Division lead is now down to a half-game over the Cleveland Indians.
The Jays are looking for a series sweep Thursday behind Henderson Alvarez.
David Cooper led off the fifth for Toronto with a single off starter Jose Quintana. Davis then hit a cinch double-play ball to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who flipped the ball to second baseman Gordon Beckham for the force, but Davis, in the eyes of first base ump Jim Reynolds, beat Beckham’s relay.
After Davis stole second, he scored easily on Colby Rasmus’ gapper to left-centre field, crossing the plate before Rasmus was thrown out trying to stretch his single into a double.
Bautista doubled Toronto’s lead with one swing of the bat leading off the sixth. He worked the count full against Quintana, who then served up a belt-high cookie that Bautista launched an estimated 423 feet into the left-field seats for his 15th homer of the year.
By this time, the Jays had touched Quintana for nine hits -- eight singles and Bautista’s bomb -- while Morrow had allowed only one hit. From the Pierzynski two-out single in the second inning until Dunn reached base on a Kelly Johnson error with one out in the seventh, Morrow erased 14 consecutive batters, including eight on ground balls. Dunn was stranded as Morrow struck out Dayan Viciedo and induced a fly ball out to right by Alex Rios.
Jays threatened to blow the game wide open in the seventh, loading the bases for Bautista with two outs, but reliever Jesse Crain got a key strikeout to keep it a two-run game until Davis created some space with his fifth homer in the ninth.