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August 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM

The difference between a potential front-line starter and everybody else was seen at Safeco Field last night

If you missed Geoff Baker Live! earlier (see video replay below), we gave you a rundown of yesterday’s Safeco Field visit by draft picks Danny Hultzen and Brad Miller, as well as the arrival of Chance Ruffin from Detroit as the player-to-be-named in the Doug Fister deal. Someone wanted to know whether Ruffin’s inclusion changed my view of the Doug Fister trade. Somebody asked me who my biggest “surprise” player is from 2011. Here’s a hint: the guys with a 17-game hitting streak.
When Brandon Morrow was still pitching for Seattle, it was always Tim Lincecum who was “The Pitcher That Got Away.”
Now, Morrow might very well be that guy.
Sometimes, you never know quite what you’ve got until it’s gone. And Morrow, though he’s taken his time since being drafted in 2006, is slowly morphing into the guy everybody thought he could become when he first arrived.
Not that he was chopped liver when here. Morrow was a dynamic bullpen arm that factored greatly in Seattle’s success during a surprising run at contention that lasted into early September of 2007. In fact, it’s when Morrow and some of the young bullpen arms around him that year began fading in the second half that Seattle’s winning run finally crashed and burned.

But through all his time here, his role never seemed certain. It was back and forth between the rotation and the team’s needs for a bullpen arm. His own needs as well. Morrow didn’t always want to put in the minor league toil required of a starting pitcher and seemed pleased to continue as a big leaguer in the bullpen.
His own uncertainty was often coupled with the team’s wariness about whether his diabetes would prevent him from lasting six or seven innings as a starter. Ever the clever one, Morrow was quick to say after last night’s game: “I thought I was going to have a pretty good game when they announced that it was Diabetes Awareness Night when I was warming up.”
Maybe that was it. Maybe not.
In any event, he struck out 12 batters in six innings, allowed only three hits and gave up just one run.
On the other side, Blake Beavan, who reeled off six consecutive “quality starts” to begin his Mariners career, looked downright ordinary. Beavan gave up three home runs in the first four innings and was toast after five frames, down 5-0 en route to a 5-1 loss.
And there, for all to see, was the difference between top-end potential and the rest of the arms out there in the majors.
Photo Credit: AP

Fans are often told about the differences, but until you actually see it, it’s just words.
Morrow has had his Beavan type of nights in the past. Times where he gets rocked and other times where hitters make contact, but Morrow can get through innings relatively unscathed.
But Beavan will never have a night like Morrow just had.
He’s simply not that kind of pitcher. At his very best, Beavan might become what Doug Fister was for the first half of the season in Seattle. A quality innings-eater who can give you No. 2 starter-type results with back-end rotation stuff. It’s all about location and when Fister was on, he’d notch outs quicker than fans could record them on their scorecards. But when he was off just an inch or two in his location, the balls would get blasted into the stratosphere.
Kind of like Beavan last night. He looked in need of an “out pitch” when, at 0-2, he left a fastball up in the zone that Adam Lind rocketed for a three-run homer.
But Beavan doesn’t really have an “out pitch.” Doesn’t have something like a Jered Weaver changeup that he can fool hitters with. He just has to put his fastball in exactly the right location and hope he doesn’t miss.
Morrow doesn’t have those problems because he’s an entirely different kind of pitcher.
“Morrow was good,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He had four pitches working and he had a live fastball. He had a live fastball and it was jumping on us a little bit. So, you have to tip your cap.”
Have to tip it and also wonder a bit what might have been.
Beavan doesn’t have four pitches like that. Michael Pineda is still working on getting three pitches to work for him in games. Felix Hernandez can fool guys with four pitches and variations of a couple of those.
That’s why, when we make references to trading guys like Hernandez, Pineda, Morrow and whoever, we always have to be careful. There’s never such thing as a “sure thing” with something like that. They can always come back to bite a team big-time.
Fister might look good in Detroit, but he’ll never make the M’s regret the move for years to come.
A guy like Morrow, if he puts it all together? Yes, he could. We’ve seen the signs.
The M’s did give up on Morrow rather quickly for a rebuilding ballclub. At the time, the move to get League seemed to be OK, given that the team appeared to be “going for it” with the Cliff Lee acquisition. A team going for it can always use a veteran arm like League to shore up a bullpen, even though Morrow was a steep price.
But the rest is rather confusing. Because as a “going for it” move, the Morrow-League trade was followed by a bunch of bargain-basement offensive signings and the disasatrous Milton Bradley trade. It was like the M’s “went for it” the first half of that winter 2009-2010, then slammed on the brakes.
Because if 2010 was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year all along, dealing Morrow for League made little sense. Even if the Blue Jays threw in minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez to sweeten the deal. Morrow had yet to even begin a full season as a starting pitcher when the M’s effectively gave up on him.
Morrow is philosophical about the deal now, having had the entire 2010 season as a buffer for any negative feelings. He feels the trade worked out well for both sides. And it has on a stats front, to be sure. But if the League-Morrow swap was about “going for it” in 2010 or playing meaningful games, well, League hasn’t pitched in too many of those.
The M’s did indeed manage to flip Lee for Justin Smoak and three others, including Beavan. As a backup plan to any failed contention bid — if that’s what this was — it was a brilliant secondary move. Except that the team still gave up on Morrow before ever really trying him out as a starter.
Now, the M’s have Beavan and others for the back-end auditions.
They’ll have to rely on Hernandez and Pineda for now, to give them any top-end stuff. And hope some of their guys in the minors — like recently-signed Danny Hultzen — can become what Morrow is today a few years down the road. Maybe many years down the road. The Morrow ship sailed a long time ago. All that remains to be seen is whether the M’s will be stuck with the legacy of two Pitchers That Got Away in the aftermath of the whole Lincecum-Morrow draft day choice.



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