Morrow set to unveil starting stuff

Morrow set to unveil starting stuff

SEATTLE -- A transition that started in Venezuela almost a year ago, and was put on the back burner this past spring, continues full-speed ahead Friday night at Safeco Field.

The first pitch in the Mariners' series opener against the Yankees could be a fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, splitter or changeup -- the impressive repertoire right-hander Brandon Morrow has at his disposal for the first start of his Major League career.

"I'm real curious to see how it goes, real curious," manager Jim Riggleman said.

So is the entire Mariners organization.

There are about three weeks remaining in what has been a frustrating season, but the future could become a whole lot brighter if the 24-year-old Morrow develops into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has the stuff, starting with a 98-mph fastball, and the desire to bolster a rotation that already includes right-hander Felix Hernandez and left-hander Erik Bedard, assuming his mysterious shoulder problems go away between now and next season.

Morrow, the Mariners' first-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California-Berkeley, needed only 16 innings in the Minors before reaching the big leagues. He compiled a 3-4 record and a 4.12 ERA in 60 relief appearances last season, striking out 66 batters in 63 1/3 innings. He was 1-2 with a 1.47 ERA and 10 saves in 26 relief outings this season before being sent to Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 5 to prepare for life as a starter. He made five starts with the Rainiers, gradually building his pitch count to 82.

Ready or not, here he goes.

"We're not putting any limitations or expectations on him," Riggleman said. "He's just going to go out and pitch, sit down, go pitch, sit down, and we'll see how many times he can do that the first time out. I don't know how far Brandon can go. I do know that when he's throwing strikes and they're not fouling balls off, he can be real successful."

Starting a game is nothing new to Morrow. He was a part-time starter in college and made five starts for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League last November and December, the first time club officials decided the organization would be better off in the long run with him in the rotation.

A medical issue with his right arm during Spring Training and the ensuing need for a quality game-ending reliever kept Morrow in the Seattle bullpen until early August, when it was decided (a split decision) to develop him as a starter.

Morrow said once he ironed out his windup, something he never used as a reliever, things began falling into place during his month-long transition.

"I have started before, so I kind of knew what was coming," Morrow said. "It went well."


"I am still trying to figure out where my effort level should be. In the game I pitched in Portland, I was throwing real hard, and the next game, I wasn't throwing as hard and got hit around a little bit. I don't know if I was taking it too easy or what, but I am trying to find the effort level that works best."
-- Brandon Morrow

His last outing went especially well. On Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium, Morrow held Portland to one hit over six scoreless innings.

"They made me throw 15 to 20 changeups in my last start, and I started to get it down," he said. "My secondary pitches are better. I am throwing a curveball now, and I worked on a cutter. I'm trying to decide between that and my slider."

To recap, he throws a fastball, splitter, curveball, slider, cutter and changeup, an arsenal that ranges in speed from 78 mph to 98 mph. The catcher will either have to add a finger in order to have a sign for every pitch, or someone will have to come up with a special set of signs.

"I'm trying to cut it down to the five best," said Morrow, adding that he rarely threw a curveball in college -- because he didn't need it -- and most of his secondary pitches still need work to get them where he wants them.

Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is eager to watch Morrow strut his stuff against the Yankees.

"Brandon pitched six strong innings the last time [with Tacoma], and I look for him to carry that over to here," Stottlemyre said. "Against a team like the Yankees, it will be a pretty good chore, because they work the pitchers pretty well. But if his command is where he wants it, we feel he has a good chance to give us six or seven innings."

Morrow figures to go as far as 90-something pitches take him.

With a fastball that reaches 98 mph and the thrill of throwing the heat past hitters, Morrow has had to learn how to throttle down a bit.

"I am still trying to figure out where my effort level should be," he said. "In the game I pitched in Portland, I was throwing real hard, and the next game, I wasn't throwing as hard and got hit around a little bit. I don't know if I was taking it too easy or what, but I am trying to find the effort level that works best."

The game plan is for Morrow to make four or five starts in September, which should prepare him for next season.

"I want to be at a point where I feel comfortable with all of my pitches and have a really good idea what I am going to come into Spring Training with," Morrow said. "I just need an idea of how I'm going to pitch and what pitches I need to have to be in the rotation next season."

And what happens if he gets knocked around a little bit during this transitional period?

Not a big deal, says Stottlemyre.

"A real good thing for me is that Brandon got kicked around in his next-to-last start down there, and he did what you like to see pitchers do: He jumped right back up, worked real hard and had a good outing the next time out," Stottlymyre said. "That's a good sign and really what I was looking for. I sort of predicted that, it happened, and I was happy about how he reacted.

"You hate to see anybody get knocked around, but you like to see how young pitchers react to getting knocked on their butt. The good ones usually will jump right back up and be heard from the next time, and in this case, he certainly was."

That's a good thing, but the best could be ahead. The Mariners certainly hope so.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.