SEATTLE -- When you've already strung together more than 18 consecutive scoreless innings, what's one more? Well, for rookie right-hander Brandon Morrow, the perfect ninth inning he pitched Saturday night against the Reds was more than just another scoreless inning. "It was exactly what the doctor ordered," pitching coach Rafael Chaves said Sunday morning.
Some seeds of doubt could have been planted inside Morrow's head during shaky back-to-back relief outings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 14 and three days later against the Astros in Houston. He surrendered as many runs in those two games (five) as he had all season. For the first time this season, he appeared to fall into a familiar trap of not trusting his stuff. "It doesn't take a whole lot for a young player to doubt himself a little bit," manager Mike Hargrove said, "but Brandon is a confident kid, and he should be. He needed it [a solid outing] more than I did. I have a lot of confidence in him, I really do." Even so, Morrow had six days to work his way out of that two-game funk on the road. The bullpen sessions with Chaves and bullpen coach Jim Slaton apparently worked, and Morrow came out of the 'pen Saturday night throwing strikes and using his breaking pitches more than previous outings. Morrow needed just 11 pitches to get three outs and seven of the pitches were strikes. "It's good to get back on track a little bit," the soft-spoken Morrow said on Sunday. "The difference? I threw strikes and that was about it, really." It was a far cry from most of his appearances leading up to the debacles in Chicago and Houston. Morrow had walked 10 batters in 6 1/3 innings this month prior to Saturday night. "He was under control, threw strikes and showed some good breaking balls," Hargrove said. Morrow even threw a changeup for the first time in a game situation, using it to retire Alex Gonzalez on a flyout to left field for the final out of the game. "I've been working on that pitch for awhile," he said, "but never had a chance to throw it in a game." In truth, he was doing so well with his high-powered fastball that he didn't need another pitch. "I never thought he was perfect," Chaves said. "He has been exceptionally good, better than anyone expected. Then, he had a couple of rough outings in a row there to show that he's human."
Chaves said he doesn't wish hard times for any of his pitchers, but bumps in the road can have positive results in the long run."Not that this was the case, but [adversity] teaches you never to take anything for granted and maybe helps you re-focus," Chaves said. "The thing about [Morrow] is that he's a good listener and hard worker." Morrow said: "Yeah, it probably did me some good. I think I'm back to where I was." Cleaning up: Richie Sexson returned to the cleanup spot for Sunday's series finale against the Reds after batting seventh during most of the homestand. "Sometimes, when you drop a guy down in the order, it takes a little pressure off that they put on themselves to justify where they hit in the lineup," Hargrove said. "He is swinging the bat better and I knew he would, eventually." Sexson hit two home runs in Saturday night's game and has raised his batting average to .210 -- not great, but much better than it was in April (.145) and May (.196). Hargrove said he makes it a point with most players, including Sexson, to meet with them privately to discuss the reasoning behind making a significant change in the lineup -- especially when the player is dropped in the order. The truth be known: Willie Bloomquist sort of embellished the story he told teammate J.J. Putz during a radio interview played during Saturday's game. The all-purpose Bloomquist, who grew up in Port Orchard, Wash., said he sided up to Ken Griffey Jr. at second base during Friday night's game and asked Junior what he did with all those [baseball collector] cards he sent but weren't signed and returned. Actually, it was only one card, "and I didn't think much of it because no one ever returned the cards I sent them," Bloomquist said. He finally stopped sending cards. "I wised up at 11 [years old] and stopped spending my money," he smiled. Bloomquist said he actually sent a letter to then-Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt -- and received a letter back. "It was one those 'form' letters, but I appreciated it and still have it in a scrapbook." But, to this day, he makes it a point to sign and return any collector's cards that are mailed to him. "It might take me awhile, but try to sign them and send them back," he said. Raul sits: Left fielder Raul Ibanez spent Sunday getting treatment on his right hamstring, which he injured while running to first base in the fifth inning Saturday night. "It's not terrible," Ibanez said. "I haven't seen a doctor yet, but right now I think it's just day-to-day. I might be able to play tomorrow, maybe in two days. They don't want me hitting at all today. I'm following orders for once." Back to business: After spending the past two weeks playing National League teams, the Mariners won't see another one this season -- unless they get to the World Series, of course. "It will be nice to get to teams we are more familiar with," Hargrove said. "I think we held our own against some decent clubs. The last five games at the end of the [last] road trip were disappointing because we started out so well. I wish we had been able to finish it off better than the way we did. We just happened to catch Houston at a time when they were really hot and we weren't." Seattle went into Sunday's series finale against the Reds with a 8-9 Interleague record, which included a three-game sweep of the Padres in San Diego. But the Mariners were swept in a three-game series against the Astros. On deck: With the Interleague Play part of their schedule behind them, the Mariners return to American League teams starting with a three-game home series against the Red Sox that starts Monday night. Right-hander Jeff Weaver (1-6, 8.59 ERA) opposes Red Sox right-hander Julian Tavarez (5-4, 4.50) in the 7:05 p.m. PT opener.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.