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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

May 15, 2009 at 8:36 AM

Geoff Baker Live! goes on-location tonight: Brandon Morrow sure to be a topic

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We’ll be shooting our Geoff Baker Live! webcast outside Safeco Field tonight (no bar involved, we’re in the street), starting at 6 p.m. and running for an hour right into gametime against the Boston Red Sox. Look for us on Occidental Avenue, where the Seattle Times will have a tent. We’ll be taking questions from the internet and also from passers-by on the street. Be sure to tune in.
There will obviously be plenty to talk about, especially where Brandon Morrow is concerned.
Morrow has said himself that command is an issue for him. And it has been for much of the season. This didn’t just start after he came off the DL. Morrow has had 10 outings so far this season and has walked hitters in seven of them. Funny thing is, yesterday’s blown save was one of the three games when he didn’t walk anyone. But command isn’t only about walks. If you throw a strike that catches too much plate, especially against a fastball hitting club like the Rangers, then the results can be worse than a walk. As we all saw.
This isn’t anything revolutionary I’m saying.
But it is very important. A closer doesn’t have the margin for error that other pitchers do. Make a mistake pitch in the ninth and it can undo all the good done the eight previous innings. That’s why those who suggest you can make any hard-throwing pitcher into a closer are wrong. It really does take a mindset to do the job. And that mindset is one that forces you to bear down and make pitches with everything on the line. Not every pitcher can do that. When we discussed, back in spring training, why Mark Lowe was looking like an iffy closer candidate at best, it was because he kept putting runners on base. You just can’t do that as a closer because at that point, your already-thin margin for error becomes microscopic.
Morrow has had only one “clean” outing all season, one in which he notched a three-run save against the Tigers. The rest of the times, he’s put runners on base and flirted with disaster. Once a closer puts anyone on-base with a lead of two runs or fewer, the next pitch can result in an entire night coming undone. As it has the past two games.
And that’s why the Mariners cannot keep shoving Morrow out there in the ninth.
Hey, of course he’s still the “closer” long-term until somebody else comes in and shows he can do a better job over the greater haul. I’ve yet to see anyone show they can do that for more than a night or two. Maybe there’s someone in the minors or extended spring training. Maybe Chad Cordero will ultimately be ready. But I’ve yet to see anyone better, including David Aardsma, than Morrow when the latter is on his game. But Morrow isn’t on his game. And the major league regular season is not extended spring training. Morrow probably should have been afforded some extra time to get it right once the regular season began. I was surprised he was installed as closer in the majors to start the season, given his lack of spring work or success. We’re now almost six weeks into the season and — one DL stint later — he’s still searching.
So now, somebody else has to handle the ninth inning in the short-term.
Morrow has allowed more walks and hits per innings pitched than 124 of the 148 relievers in the American League. The only closer to do worse than him in that department is B.J. Ryan of the Blue Jays, who wound up on the DL and has lost his closer job for the time being until he gets it right.
Onetime major league closer Mike MacDougal was also one of the few allowing more baserunners than Morrow. He got designated for assignment by the White Sox last month.
See where we’re going with this?
Morrow needs to get things right before he’s trusted with the ninth again.
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me three times, well then, I must be a dolt.
It’s doubtful the M’s will be fooled again into thinking Morrow can cure whatever ails him by continuing to work the ninth. Let him get it right in less pressure-packed situations first, by working the sixth, seventh, then the eighth. But make sure his command comes back and that he’s doing a better job of mixing in off-speed pitches. Then send him back out there. Yeah, it may get messy at times with Aardsma — not exactly a command machine — or whoever else holding down the fort for now.
But no worse than the past two games have been.
On the positive side, the Mariners played a better series versus the Rangers than I’ve seen them play in some time. They now have to pick Morrow up. And that means, maybe have something better than a one or two-run lead heading to the ninth. They need to get through this period while someone else closes and Morrow works to become the pitcher he used to be. He isn’t that guy right now.

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