Saturday will be big for the Blue Jays. It will be the first chance in 2013 for Toronto to face another Major League Baseball club, and it will also be the first opportunity for Brandon Morrow to show he belongs in the outstanding pitching staff.
Manager John Gibbons announced Morrow will start against the Detroit Tigers in the first spring-training game; Gibbons also declared that as things stand now, Morrow will be the No. 2 starter behind R.A. Dickey, who will open the Jays’ season against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, April 2 at Rogers Centre.
Anyone who follows baseball knows the Jays went all-out to acquire one of the most talented rotations in the major leagues. R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle have all been labeled as the ace on their former teams at one point, so it’s a strong and deep pool of pitching that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has assembled and Gibbons has available to use. It’s this kind of competitive environment that a talent like Morrow’s should be able to excel in.
Injuries have been a concern for Morrow. Most recently, a strained left oblique muscle last July knocked the 28-year-old native of Santa Rosa, California out of the lineup and put the right-hander on the 60-day DL, but despite that setback he was able to compile a 10-7 record with a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts and 2.63 strikeouts for each walk he gave up.
A look at the numbers he has compiled in the three years since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners is revealing: particularly in the ERA and walks, the case can be made that Morrow has learned how to pitch instead of just trying to throw heat past every batter. He also became noted for the number of times he went into the seventh inning while keeping his pitch count lower than in previous years.
Jays Journal blogger Kyle Franzoni makes an apt comparison: Morrow could break out this year the way Tigers starter Max Scherzer did in 2012 when he went 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts versus only 60 walks. Franzoni points out that Scherzer had fantastic run support while Morrow did not, but the Jays have loaded up with high-average hitters and base-stealers in shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Emilio Bonifacio to complement the big bats of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the go-go aggressiveness of Brett Lawrie and the steady contributions of J.P. Arencibia.
That mix should provide the kind of run support a pitcher needs to win games. Now it’s up to Morrow to take the next steps: to stay healthy, productive and focused so he can live up to his early promise. The journey toward realizing those goals resumes on Saturday.