Pirates reliever Morris enhances value with strong spring
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Who was that guy?
That's what Joe Maddon wanted to know last week. The Tampa Bay Rays manager reversed roles and directed a question toward a Pittsburgh-based reporter during a postgame news conference.
“Is he really that good?” Maddon said.
Maddon was asking about Pirates reliever Bryan Morris.
Scouts were buzzing about Morris, too, double checking their radar guns versus the Rays and again on Sunday against the Phillies. Morris' fastball topped out at 97 mph on both occasions, and with movement. His cutter touched 91 mph and perplexed batters.
Facing the Phillies on Sunday, Morris pitched two scoreless innings and showed an edge by drilling the Phillies' Cody Asche a half inning after Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon hit Starling Marte in the back and buzzed Andrew McCutchen up and in.
While the majority of the Pirates' 25-man roster is expected to contain few surprises, there is an intriguing bullpen battle this spring. Morris, Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel and Vin Mazzaro are out of options. The Pirates are unlikely to keep all four when the club breaks camp.
By improving his stock, Morris perhaps could be another impact bullpen arm or a trade chip later this spring.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Morris' stuff was “electric” against the Rays and was in attendance for Sunday's game against the Phillies.
“At the end of spring training, if everyone stays healthy, we are going to have a really challenging decision or two to make,” Huntington said Sunday. “Maybe it's a chance to move a guy that can go help someone else to add a piece that adds depth to our system or major league club.”
Not only has Morris' velocity ticked up, but he is developing a comfort level with a new pitch: the two-seam fastball.
“Believe it or not, he's throwing it in the mid-90s,” Huntington said, “and he has terrific sink to it.”
Morris struck out Phillies outfielder John Mayberry with a 96 mph two-seam fastball in the fifth inning Sunday.
“I started working on it toward the end of the season,” Morris said. “I worked on it over the winter.”
Morris already possessed above-average fastball velocity — 94 mph last season — but averaged a well-below-average strikeout rate (5.1 per nine innings).
Against the Rays on Thursday, Morris struck out three in two perfect innings. Morris said the strikeouts are tied to his improved cutter.
“I think it has more depth right now than what it had last year,” Morris said. “It's pressure points. It's subtle movement.”
The other change is Morris enters the 2014 season stronger. The Dodgers' 2006 first-round pick began using new shoulder-strengthening exercises in the offseason. He knew he had a fight coming this spring.
“In the offseason, I really got after it this year because it is a different battle,” Morris said. “Hopefully, whatever happens, I'll still be playing baseball somewhere.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday the Pirates will carry 12 pitchers for “98 percent” of the season.
“We're having conversations right now on how we're best served,” Hurdle said. “We know we are going to need five starters (early in April). And then we are going to carry seven relievers.”
That means the Pirates have four relievers fighting for three spots. Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Justin Wilson are assured of roles.
Morris sounds like he's on the right side of the Pirates' roster-cut line.
“His evolution could be a back-of-the-(bullpen) guy,” Hurdle said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates enter Plan B with Martin off market
- Pirates cut ties with Davis, clearing path for Alvarez to play first base
- Pirates ready to protect top pitching prospects from Rule 5 draft
- Pirates notebook: Team offered catcher Martin 4-year contract