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Minor league notebook: At last, Curve pitcher Morris finds success

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 6:27 p.m.
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Altoona Curve pitcher A.J. Morris was 5-1 with a 1.67 ERA entering Saturday's game against Trenton.

In what has been a disappointing season for the Altoona Curve, A.J. Morris stands out.

The 27-year-old right-hander was 5-1 with an Eastern League-best 1.64 ERA going into his scheduled start Saturday night at Trenton. The Curve carried a 23-37 record into the game.

“I'm getting ahead (in counts) early and locating my fastball down in the zone,” he said. “I'm a ground-ball pitcher. I (have) really pressed the issue of getting contact early and trying to end innings in as few pitches as I can.”

It was a bumpy road until now for Morris, who was claimed by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs after he went 4-2 with a 4.75 ERA with Double-A Tennessee in 2013. He started 10 of 31 games.

Washington's fourth-round draft pick in 2009 out of Kansas State, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Morris pitched two seasons in the Nationals' farm system before missing the 2011 season because of a right-shoulder surgery. Morris had a torn labrum.

He went to the Cubs that year as part of a deal that brought former Pirate Tom Gorzelanny to Washington.

Morris returned to the mound in 2012, pitching 39 games, all in relief. He posted a 5-2 record with seven saves and a 2.24 ERA for Double-A Daytona.

Morris has been asked more than once how he feels about bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. The answer is pretty much the same.

“You try to go about your business the same way and, hopefully, get results,” he said.

At Oklahoma State, Morris finished second to pitcher Stephen Strasburg (taken No. 1 overall by the Nationals) in voting for the Golden Spikes Award, which recognizes the nation's best college player. Morris was 13-1 with a 1.64 ERA during his junior year.

But even that did not come easily. The prior season, he won four games and carried a 6.04 ERA. He admits to getting discouraged, “but I had a good core of teammates around me that really drove me to work hard and focus (on) what I need to work on.”

That summer, everything changed. Playing in a league in Washington state, he changed his diet, added 15 pounds of muscle and worked on his control.

“There was a lot of work,” he said.

All the pitfalls, Morris said, have made him better.

“It's kind of nice to remember you can get through things when they're tough,” he said. “I've had tough days, and I've had good days. It was good mental practice.”

Finally

The Curve avoided a franchise record-tying losing streak Wednesday when they beat Binghamton, 6-5. Altoona had lost 10 straight coming in, batting .201 during the skid and losing seven of the games by two runs or fewer.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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