2/23/2013 6:00 P.M. ET
After years of tinkering, Morrow has found success
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The old saying, "if it's not broken don't fix it" seems like an appropriate motto this spring for Brandon Morrow.
Toronto's right-hander is coming off the best season of his career. A 2012 campaign that saw him become the all-around pitcher most people envisioned when he was taken with the fifth overall pick of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
Following years of tinkering, Morrow has finally settled into a consistent groove and doesn't plan on changing anything with his preseason approach compared to the one he used last spring.
"I took it slower going in, let myself find my mechanics, find the balance, release point and all of that first before I started amping up," Morrow said of his strategy last season.
"I took it more slowly throughout [camp] so you just kind of remain consistent so you're not trying to go out there and show it off, blow it out in the first game."
Morrow has always possessed an overpowering fastball, but the 2012 season will be remembered as the one when he successfully added an impressive mix of offspeed pitches.
The 28-year-old was able to polish his curveball and changeup to the point they could be relied upon a lot more frequently. He utilised the changeup 11.6 percent of the time compared to 5.5 percent in 2011 while the curveball was thrown 3.5 percent more often according to FanGraphs.
The end result created a greater variance of speeds in Morrow's repertoire en route to a 2.96 ERA in 124 2/3 innings of work. Hitters could no longer sit on his hard fastball and slider combination, which was one of the main reasons behind his high 4.72 ERA in 2011.
In some ways, Morrow has been a somewhat overlooked component of Toronto's starting rotation. Following a busy offseason, it's R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle who have received most of the hype, but the fact remains Morrow has the ability to be just as good -- if not better -- than that impressive trio.
"He has a heck of an arm and we think he's just scratching the surface," manager John Gibbons said. "He has a chance to be a great one and everything is moving in that direction. It's not always a bad thing when you let the other guys take the spotlight and you just go out and win all the games."
Morrow's spring officially got underway during the club's first game on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers. He allowed a deep two-run homer to Prince Fielder while surrendering a total of three hits and recording one strikeout in one inning of work.
The overall results matter little at this time of the year. Morrow won't begin throwing his slider for at least another two or three starts and used his first outing more like a live batting practice than anything else.
The native of California made a point of focusing on his curveball and changeup even in counts when he wouldn't normally do so. The curveball led to his lone strikeout while it was a changeup that produced the Fielder home run. All in all, Morrow said he was relatively pleased with how things went.
"Just trying to take the same approach as live BP, but then it's a game and part of you really wants to get it going," said Morrow, who threw 23 pitches including 13 strikes. "Part of you wants to go out while the other half is trying to stay back and stay under control and [I was] just up with my fastballs early.
"When I finally got them down, obviously down and in for a strike to Prince Fielder is not a good pitch and I wouldn't be throwing it during the season. But we're working on stuff."
Morrow received an early vote of confidence this spring when it was announced that he would remain the club's No. 2 starter. He'll slot behind Dickey but ahead of Buehrle, Johnson and Ricky Romero, as the Blue Jays alternate between hard-throwing and soft-tossing pitchers.
The original expectation was that Johnson would be the No. 2, but Gibbons wanted to reward Morrow for his past service time in Toronto and feels as though he can become a major piece to this much-talked about pitching staff.
Toronto's other starters are all scheduled for two innings of work this week, but Morrow was the exception with just one frame under his belt. The reason behind the differing schedules is simply that Morrow began last year in a similar fashion and didn't want to change what previously proved to be successful.
There's still well over a month before the start of the regular season and the main goal is to finish the spring feeling just as good as he did one year ago.
"I'm trying to do the same thing," Morrow said. "I came out of Spring Training feeling good, healthy and strong. Started the season well, so I'm just trying to keep the same [approach]."