Morrow mows down A’s

            Brandon Morrow may be the best Game Tracker pitcher in baseball.

            With the A’s and Blue Jays going at it in Oakland Tuesday, in a couldn’t miss matchup of two former Cal stars, Game Tracker was the only available media visual to the Bay Area market. But, with Morrow at last coming into his own as a bona fide major league ace, it’s a fun ride to simply sit back and watch the radar gun. Well that, along with some of the most consistent and stubborn location, at present, in all of baseball.

            The walk total seems to belie the idea of consistent location, but sometimes owning numbers that don’t equate with the outcome is a defining characteristic of an elite player. And, that’s precisely what Morrow is proving to be. With Toronto’s 5-2 win Tuesday, the big right-hander is off to the best start of his major league career. He lasted six innings, while allowing just one run on four hits.

            Allowing four walks might seem like a blemish. But, not when you back them up with 10 strikeouts. The fifth inning is a prime example of this. Toronto entered the inning up 2-0, but a pair of walks set it up for a Jonny Gomes single to cut the lead to 2-1.

            Then, with one out, Morrow hunkered in to do what he does best. With the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base, he locked up with Seth Smith, pounding him with fastballs off the plate away, ranging from 92-95 mph. Smith did a good job laying off the tempting heat to run the count to 3-1. But, Morrow refused to give in, pounding the same up-and-away zone with the same blazing heat. Smith chased out of the zone on 3-1, before flailing at a 3-2 offering to end the threat with a weak popup to shortstop.

            The at bat was Morrow in a nutshell; painting it black with mid-90s velocity, and expanding the zone incrementally to get hitters to chase. Several A’s batters had words for home plate umpire Ed Hickox about strike calls on the outside corner. But, that’s where Morrow beats you. He’s not trying to steal strikes or expand the plate. He locks up with you and forces you to adjust to his pitch. And, while you’re busy chewing on the umpire, Morrow devours you.

            If Morrow continues to prove he’s ace material, he will likewise prove to be the saving grace of the controversial 2006 draft class. While the top tier has won a combined three Cy Young Awards – 10th overall pick Tim Lincecum in 2008 and 2009, and seventh overall pick Clayton Kershaw in 2011 – there were five burly college studs selected ahead on them in the draft order. Four have been busts of epic proportions, of which only first-overall pick Luke Hochevar is currently part of a big-league rotation.

            And then there’s Morrow. The fifth overall pick by the Mariners, the former Cal ace shot through the farm system to arrive in the majors as a reliever in 2007. By 2008, he was closing games with tepid results, and became a bastion of criticism for the Mariners organization’s failing to properly develop prospects.

            After a lackluster conversion to the rotation in 2009, Seattle got the closer they wanted by trading Morrow to Toronto for Brandon League. Since then, Morrow has been viewed by baseball critics as a reclamation project. It seems, as it now stands, that the contrary is true – that the Blue Jays have been building a big-league stud.

            Incidentally, Morrow’s former Cal staff-mate Tyson Ross took the loss Tuesday. Ross was a second-round pick by the A’s in 2008. And, no, Game Tracker did not do justice to the fourth-inning bomb he surrendered to Adam Lind.

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