By Kirby Arnold
Brandon Morrow, who had established himself as one of the Seattle Mariners’ most dominant relievers in some time, began his conversion into a starting pitcher with success today.
Morrow gave up one hit and struck out one in 1 2/3 innings for Class AAA Tacoma against Albuquerque at Cheney Stadium. He threw 34 pitches, 21 of them strikes and all but three of them fastballs. He topped out at 98 mph.
Those are the undisputable details of the first outing in what the Mariners hope is a productive career as a starter for Morrow. What’s highly disputable is the Mariners’ decision to do this with him.
With Morrow, the Mariners had the makings of a bullpen that hasn’t been this strong since Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Nelson and Kazu Sasaki were locking down games in 2001. Not saying Morrow, Sean Green, Cesar Jimenez, Mark Lowe and J.J. Putz were THAT good, but they fell into their roles nicely and put up a lot of zeroes this season. And, when Putz was injured, Morrow stepped in and saved 10 games.
This wasn’t an easy decision for the Mariners. There’s been quite a debate within the organization over what’s best for Morrow and the team, and the Mariners finally ended the suspense Tuesday by sending him down to begin the transition to a starter.
Good move? Can’t say that until Morrow gets back and shows he has the repertoire to get hitters out in innings one through six like he did with his fastball in the eighth and ninth.
I’m a little nervous about it. There’s nothing like having a power arm at the back end of a game, and now the Mariners will have one less with Morrow as a starter. It’s hard to imagine them not missing a guy like that.
But don’t forget that this year’s No. 1 draft pick, hard-throwing Georgia closer Josh Fields, is considered a guy who could be in the major leagues with little time in the minors (like Morrow last year). The Mariners still haven’t signed Fields, who is a Scott Boras client, but they’re not restricted by the Aug. 15 deadline to sign draft picks because he was a college senior.
Who knows what the five-man starting rotation will be next year? Barring offseason moves, they could go to spring training with Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva, R.A. Dickey, Miguel Batista, Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ryan Feierabend. That’s eight decent arms, despite what we’ve seen this year from Bedard, Silva and Batista. (OK, it’s hard to imagine Batista in there next year. In fact, he might not make it to his scheduled start this weekend because the M’s are talking about bringing up Rowland-Smith for that start)
For Morrow’s sake, and more importantly his health, let’s hope the Mariners leave him as a starter now that they’ve decided to convert him. Last year, he bounced from reliever during the regular season to starter in winter ball and back to reliever again at spring training, and his shoulder felt the effects. He missed the last half of spring training and started the season in the minor leagues.