Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Brandon Morrow

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With the fifth pick in the 2006 draft Seattle chose Brandon Morrow over local boy and University of Washington ace Tim Lincecum, who quickly became one of the elite pitchers in baseball while Morrow bounced back and forth between the Mariners’ rotation and bullpen before being traded to the Blue Jays for Brandon League in December of 2009.

Toronto made Morrow a full-time starter, stuck with him in the rotation despite a 6.66 ERA through 10 outings, and then watched as he put together a three-month stretch of dominance. In his final 16 starts Morrow had a 3.36 ERA, .232 opponents’ batting average, and 113 strikeouts in 96 innings.

With a 4.49 ERA overall his 2010 performance looks modest at first glance, but Morrow was the only pitcher in baseball to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings while starting at least 25 games. And he racked up 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings, easily topping the 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings from the second-place finisher … Tim Lincecum. Of course, Morrow has always missed tons of bats and always had overpowering raw stuff, totaling 382 strikeouts in 344 career innings while averaging 94.4 miles per hour with his fastball.

What kept him from dominating prior to the middle of last year was an inability to consistently throw strikes, but Morrow made major strides with his career-long control problems by walking 3.1 batters per nine innings during that 16-start stretch after previously handing out 5.8 free passes per nine frames. He’s never going to have pinpoint command, but if Morrow can keep his walk rate around 3.0 per nine innings–and bounce back quickly from his current arm soreness–he has a chance to be a true top-of-the-rotation ace for the Blue Jays and is still just 26 years old.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana and Colby Rasmus.

Dusty Baker expects Stephen Strasburg to make his next scheduled start

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Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg lasted only two innings in Sunday’s start against the Diamondbacks. The right-hander reportedly had trouble getting loose and it showed: he yielded a hit and three walks to the 10 batters he faced. According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Strasburg had “some nerve impingement that has been alleviated.”

Manager Dusty Baker expects Strasburg to make his next scheduled start on Saturday at home against the Rockies, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Strasburg was examined by doctors, who deemed him to be in good shape — enough to not warrant undergoing an MRI.

Through 20 starts, Strasburg owns a 3.25 ERA with a 141/37 K/BB ratio across 121 2/3 innings. Though the injury scare isn’t what the Nationals hoped for, he’s done well in the first year of his seven-year, $175 million contract extension.

John Lackey hit four White Sox batters today

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Cubs starter John Lackey didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field against the White Sox. The right-hander hit four White Sox batters over the course of five innings. He yielded just two runs, though, on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He left with a 4-2 lead.

Lackey hit Jose Abreu with one out in the first inning, then hit Abreu again in the fifth. He then hit Matt Davidson and Yoan Moncada shortly thereafter. Chris Beck relieved Carlos Rodon for the White Sox in the bottom of the fifth and promptly hit Ian Happ with a fastball to lead off the frame. Home plate umpire Lance Barksdale issued warnings to both benches and the beanings stopped.

So, how often do pitchers hit four batters in a game? Not that often! The last to do it was the Reds’ Josh Smith on July 4, 2015 against the Brewers. Before that, it was the Nationals’ Livan Hernandez on July 20, 2005 against the Rockies. Lackey is only the ninth pitcher to hit four batters in a game since 2000 and the 26th since 1913. The only other Cubs pitcher to do it besides Lackey was Moe Drabowsky in 1957.