Normally, I don't get nights off when there is a Rainiers game or a Mariners game in the area. Usually, I am at one or the other. But after a long stretch of games and days of work in a row - I think 18 of 19, they gave me part of the weekend off and tonight off, even with the Rainiers playing Fresno at Cheney Stadium
So what did I do? Well, I went to the Rainiers game of course. Yes, I have no life. But it was a perfect night in Tacoma and Brandon Morrow was on the mound and I have yet to see him pitch for the Rainiers this season. So I went and sat below by the scouts behind home plate so I could get a good read on his breaking stuff and how much he's throwing it.
Unlike the big leagues, there's no TV (though the Rainiers are on Comcast some) and no pitch tracker to keep track, even the stadium radar gun can be of no help. The best way is sit down below and watch from behind. There you can see the break and get some sort of feel of what the batters are seeing.
My decision seemed to be a good one. Because I got to watch what, according to Rainiers manager Daren Brown was Morrow's "best outing since he's joined us."
Morrow pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, while striking out five and walking just one in the Rainiers' 7-2 win over the Fresno Grizzlies. He threw 89 pitches with 69 of them coming for strikes.
And revisiting my college and legion coaching days, I even charted Morrow's pitches. Of the 89, unofficially 36 of them were offspeed pitches - either his slider, curve or change-up.
Here's how it broke down -- remember these are unofficial and I'm not going to break down which was a slider or a curve. All radar readings are from the stadium gun, which a few Rainiers pitchers believe maybe 2 mph fast at times.
Four batters faced - 11 pitches (8 strikes), 1 offspeed (breaking ball for a ball) - four first-pitch strikes with fastball -- Giants stud catching prospect Buster Posey rips a double off the left-field wall on a 96 mph fastball.
Four batters faced -- 17 pitches (10 strikes), 6 offspeed (three for strikes) - Morrow again threw first-pitch strikes to all four batters with the fastball. In the second at-bat, he issued his only walk to Matt Downs, it was a nine-pitch at-bat with Downs fouling off several pitches. Morrow threw three offspeed pitches in the at-bat, including a breaking ball on 3-2 that was just low. But that he threw it in that situation shows promise. He also got the final out of the inning on a 0-1 slider.
Three batters faced - only 9 pitches (6 strikes), 3 offspeed (2 for strikes)- one first-pitch strike with a fastball. The first at-bat against Jake Wald, Morrow threw a first-pitch fastball strike. He then froze Wald with a nasty breaking pitch, wasted a fastball high and inside on 0-2 and then came back with a breaking ball in the dirt that Wald chased with a weak swing.
Five batters faced - 16 pitches (10 strikes), five offspeed (3 for strikes) - two first-pitch strkes (both fastball) but did start the first two hitters, including Posey, off with breaking balls. Morrow threw three straight offspeed pitches to Posey to start his at-bat, but it was a fastball that he grounded out weekly to second.
Morrow got two quick outs, but then hung an 0-1 breaking pitch to Ryan Rohlinger, who pulled it over the left-field wall for his 14th homer of the year. On the next pitch, Morrow left a fastball up and Downs pulled it down the line for his 27th double of the season. To make matters worse, Morrow then threw three straight balls - all fastballs - to Ben Copeland. At that point, I thought we may see a meltdown that we've seen in the past from him. It looked like his release point was a little off.
But instead, he battled back, just hammering three straight fastballs at Copeland, the last of which he popped up in foul territory to Matt Tuiasosopo.
That might have been the most important out he got all night.
Five batters faced - 14 pitches (10 strikes), 7 offspeed (4 for strikes) -- Morrow gave up a lead-off double on a first-pitch fastball to Brian Horowitz. Morrow then had a seven pitch battle with Jake Wald in which he threw a nasty breaking ball to get a swinging strike-out.
But another first-pitch fastball to Clay Timpner was hit for an RBI double for Fresno's second run of the game. At that point, Morrow seemed to see the trend and he went offspeed on first pitch to Kevin Frandsen, and later got Frandsen to line out on an offspeed pitch. In his third time facing Posey, Morrow started off with offspeed on a first pitch ball and went right back to it again to get Posey to fly out.
Four batters faced - 14 pitches (9 strikes), 9 offspeed pitches (6 for strikes) -- Obviously as the game wore on, Morrow relied on his offspeed pitches especially with his velocity on his fastball starting to dip. On all four hitters, he started them off with first-pitch breaking pitches, three of which he threw for strikes. Joe Borchard led off the inning, by pulling a breaking ball down the right-field line, but Morrow settled in, he got the next two outs on fly outs off of offspeed pitches, and the final at-bat, he started off with a first-pitch change-up for a ball, then went fastball, breaking ball, both for strikes and reached back and threw a 94 mph fastball that froze Copeland.
Three batters faced - 8 pitches (7 strikes), 6 offspeed pitches (five for strikes) -- three-first pitch strikes (two of them were offspeed) -- Pretty standard, Morrow gave up an infield single on a fastball, he then got a pop up on an offspeed pitch and on a change up that stayed up and Timpner hammered it to first, but Mike Carp made a nice grab of it and doubled off the runner at first.
So what does all of this mean? Well, I have a lot of free time. More importantly, it means that Morrow's confidence in his offspeed pitches is slowly growing. He's never going to be half fastballs, half offspeed. He has a good fast ball and needs to throw it, but in this outing more than 1/3 of his pitches were offspeed and the results speak for themselves. Perhaps more importantly was his ability to make in-game adjustments with the breaking stuff, knowing he had to start throwing it on the first-pitch.
Of course, what frustrates me, is the fact that this process of learning his way and feeling out his breaking pitches and learning the situations with it, should have been done two years ago. If that was the case, he'd be in the rotation right now. He is trying to learn to pitch, not just throw. That process isn't easy and doesn't happen overnight, it should have happened under the previous regime. But we all know that didn't happen.
Does Monday night's outing mean Morrow is ready to rejoin the rotation? No. But it does mean he's moving in the right direction.