Morrow preparing for a starting role
Right-hander to compete for rotation spot in Spring Training
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The five-day-a-week workout routine that keeps Brandon Morrow busy would be about the same regardless of his job description.But the Mariners right-hander pays special attention to his right shoulder, making sure it's strong enough to withstand the rigors of a 30-plus-start, 200-something-inning season for the first time in his life. For starters, Morrow wants to be one. "This is something I really want to do," Morrow said after a workout at the Peoria Sports Complex, "and I think it is the best thing for the team." The Mariners' game plan, which is subject to change, is to begin Spring Training with Morrow competing for a spot in the five-man rotation. He ended last season in the rotation and showed that he has what it takes to be an every-fifth-day pitcher. The learning process, which began in August when Morrow was sent to Triple-A Tacoma to build his arm strength, consisted of 10 starts. The sixth one came on Sept. 5, when Morrow made his Major League starting debut against the Yankees at Safeco Field. Morrow held the Yanks hitless through 7 2/3 innings, becoming the first pitcher in more than 40 years to take a no-hitter that deep into a game in his first big league start. The remainder of the season for Morrow was up and down, and he finished with a 2-2 record and a 5.79 ERA. Even so, Morrow went into the offseason confident that he would begin the 2009 season in the Seattle rotation and kept his hopes up during numerous changes in the organization. First, a new general manager came aboard. Then came a new manager and an all-new coaching staff. But the news that really got his attention was the blockbuster trade made during the Winter Meetings. The Mariners traded closer J.J. Putz. "I thought, 'Oh no, here we go again,'" Morrow said. Almost exactly one year earlier, Morrow's mind was set on being in the Seattle rotation. He had been sent to winter ball in Venezuela to prepare for the assignment, but it all changed when the Mariners acquired left-hander Erik Bedard from the Orioles. Visions of being moved back to the bullpen to become the closer entered Morrow's mind. It was not what he wanted, but he knew it was possible. Morrow has closer stuff, having averaged 11.54 strikeouts per nine innings last season while holding opposing hitters to a .143 batting average and registering 10 saves, second on the team to Putz. Morrow understood why he could be moved back to the bullpen, but his mind was eased after he received phone calls from general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu. For starters, Morrow will be one.
"Myself, Don and the [coaching] staff will get together and have this debate for quite a period of time," Zduriencik said, "but as of right now, we haven't changed our mind on him being a starter, and I don't know that we will."
The list of potential closers grew by one on Tuesday, when the Mariners signed veteran right-hander Tyler Walker to a one-year contract. He has previous closing experience, though not since the 2006 season. Right-handers Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista and Aaron Heilman, acquired in the deal that sent Putz to the Mets, figure to battle it out this spring for the game-ending role.Meanwhile, Morrow will be on a schedule that allows him to be game-ready when the regular season begins on April 6 in Minneapolis against the Twins. It's too early to know if he'll start any of the four games against the Twins, but Morrow said a specific number in the rotation is not that important to him. "After the first start, what number you are -- one to five -- doesn't really matter," he said. A low-key individual on the outside, Morrow said he's excited about the new season and being part of a rotation that could be among the best in the American League. "I think it can be a rotation that not a lot of people would want to hit against," he said. "Felix [Hernandez] is good now and is going to get better. If he's healthy, Bedard going back-to-back with Felix would be something to see. They have great stuff and will get a lot of strikeouts." Morrow also predicted that right-hander Carlos Silva would bounce back and left-hander Jarrod Washburn has the experience and savvy to lend a big hand. As for himself, well, Morrow is making no predictions. "I just want to be one of the five guys," he said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.