Morrow comfortable with starting role
Right-hander preparing for just one job in first year with Jays
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brandon Morrow walked into an unfamiliar environment when he arrived in camp for the Blue Jays. Looking around the clubhouse, the pitcher recognized the players he had competed against in the past, but it was a room full of strangers for the most part.
Morrow played on the same team as reliever Jesse Carlson during winter ball in Venezuela a few years back and he spent some time over the winter working out with Casey Janssen in California. Beyond that? Well, Morrow has the rest of Spring Training to sort out all the names and faces of everyone else.
As new as everything is for Morrow this year, though, the young righty admits that he is finally feeling comfortable. In December, the Blue Jays wanted Morrow to be a part of their rebuilding process by acquiring him in a trade with the Mariners. That meant a lot to Morrow. So did the fact that Toronto made it clear what role he would fill.
Morrow is a starter. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made that clear. With the Mariners, Morrow bounced between the rotation and bullpen and never was sure if he would remain in one role or the other when he arrived to camp each spring. Morrow is relieved to finally be preparing for one specific job.
"It's really important mentally," Morrow said. "The back and forth in Seattle starts to wear on you a little bit, and it's nice to know that you've got a position and that's what you're working towards. You don't have to think about two different things at one time and try to prepare yourself for two different roles at one time."
The Blue Jays have a long list of arms in camp this spring competing for one of the five vacancies in the starting rotation. Morrow is among the leading candidates, but there is always the chance that a poor performance this spring could diminish his chances. Even in that scenario, Anthopoulos said Morrow will not be considered for the bullpen.
"This is probably the first offseason and Spring Training where it's been a clear, defined role for him being a starter," Anthopoulos said. "In talking to him a little bit, it seemed like that's something that he's hoped for, knowing what his role is going to be. Irrespective of what happens, irrespective of performance, we're committed to him as a starter.
"Could that change down the road? Sure. But right now, we're 100 percent fully committed to leaving him as a starter, and we have had no discussions and no plans at all to even entertain anything else."
As things currently stand, Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum and Morrow are the front-runners for the first three spots in the rotation -- not necessarily in that order. There are a lot of other pitchers vying for jobs, though. Dustin McGowan, Marc Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey, Dana Eveland, Brad Mills and Robert Ray, among others, will be considered.
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Morrow knows he has a player option remaining, so the right-hander is fully aware that he could be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas to open the season if he does not perform well this spring. Anthopoulos feels Morrow has tremendous potential, but Toronto is also determined to head north with the best 12 pitchers come Opening Day.
Morrow -- the fifth overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft -- has not been promised anything.
"There's no guarantees," Morrow said. "I've got to, obviously, earn my spot. But if I'm not in the rotation here, it will be at whatever level they decide, I guess. But, personally, I expect myself to be in the rotation in Toronto. Having that knowledge that you're going to be a starter helps. It's just a totally different mind-set really, right out of the gates."
In a sense, though Morrow has not been guaranteed a job, one of the roster spots is his to lose.
"Everybody's got to be out there competing," Anthopoulos said. "In Brandon's case, we certainly would expect him to make the team, but he knows he's got to earn his way on as well."
Over a three-year career with the Mariners, the 25-year-old Morrow fashioned a 3.96 ERA over 131 games, including 15 starts in the big leagues. Last year, Morrow went 2-4 with a 4.39 ERA in 26 games (10 starts) with Seattle and 5-3 with a 3.60 ERA over 10 starts with Triple-A Tacoma. Overall, the righty logged 124 2/3 innings last season.
Morrow said he believes his progress as a starting pitcher might have been impeded by the constant back and forth between roles. He also said most of the arm issues he has experienced over the years came during his stints in the bullpen. That said, Morrow appreciated all the experience that the Mariners gave him on the big league stage.
"You can't say enough about getting Major League experience," Morrow said. "I think it'll help accelerate working as a starter, because there's that comfort level. It takes a while just to get comfortable out there, and what I'm starting to learn now is that I don't have to be 100 percent every pitch.
"I'm starting to find that comfort level where I can cruise, and it helps with my control and stamina and everything."
|"Guys are really going to be pushing each other, and I think that's going to help everybody out."|
|-- Brandon Morrow|
Shortly before Christmas, Morrow woke up from a nap and saw that he missed a call from Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. The pitcher had a feeling he was a candidate to be traded, but he quickly hopped online to see if he could find anything out.
"I checked the Internet and there wasn't anything on there," Morrow recalled. "So it was a little bit of a surprise. I knew something was up, though."
The Blue Jays sent reliever Brandon League and Minor League outfielder Johermyn Chavez to the Mariners in order to add Morrow to their rotation. Now in camp, Morrow might not have everyone's name down just yet, but he has already seen the potential that his competitors have during bullpen sessions.
"It's impressive," Morrow said. "There's a lot of arms here -- a lot of great arms with a lot of good stuff. It's going to be a great Spring Training. Guys are really going to be pushing each other, and I think that's going to help everybody out."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.