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Giants get their man in Morris

Giants get their man in Morris

SAN FRANCISCO -- Free agent pitcher Matt Morris had a secret, and he wasn't about to let the Giants know -- he wanted to come to San Francisco.

The 31-year-old right-hander got his wish Monday, signing a three-year deal for $27 million with a club option for a fourth year, solidifying the rotation and boosting the Giants' optimism for a successful 2006.

Helping to persuade the nine-year veteran to join the Giants was catcher Mike Matheny, a longtime backstop for Morris in St. Louis, and the new No. 2 man in the San Francisco rotation already expects a quick transition to only his second Major League team.

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"The Giants were my No. 1 choice," said Morris from SBC Park on Monday after weighing other offers. "The organization takes pride in putting a quality ballclub on the field ... but Mike was a huge factor in coming here.

"It's also a pitcher's park -- in fact, the whole [National League West] division is pitcher friendly. That is a consideration. Matheny told me he enjoyed how [manager] Felipe Alou and the organization treated him, and he's a big part of why I'm here."

Morris solidifies the Giants' rotation, anchored by hard-throwing ace Jason Schmidt, who was relatively ineffective last season due to arm problems. With youngsters Noah Lowry and Matt Cain solid, the Big Four is now set, with Brad Hennessey penciled in as No. 5.

St. Louis, expected to try to re-sign Morris after losing the sweepstakes race for A.J. Burnett, didn't come up with a sufficient offer to retain the 11-year veteran.

Morris has won at least 14 games in four of the past five seasons and is a good friend with Matheny. Morris was 14-10 with a 4.11 ERA last season, struck out 117 batters and only walked 37.

"He's a gamer," said Matheny on Monday. "He's going to go out there and not leave anything on the field. I talked to Matt early on and we knew it would be a tough situation for him. He was not high on St. Louis' priority list, and I've been in the same situation."

Morris turned down a two-year, $13 million offer from the Cardinals, but felt it was time to move on. Asked if St. Louis is considered a "Mecca" for good players, the veteran quickly replied, "San Francisco is, isn't it?"

Matheny noted Morris is a quality pitcher but also a quality person, and will do anything to keep pitching. Morris had arm problems in 2004 but didn't let it bother him on the mound.

"The bigger the game, the better he pitched for us," said Matheny. "He's very intense and we appreciated the fact he kept grinding through the injury even though he was not 100 percent."

Morris, accompanied by his wife, Heather, reported he is healthy now and proved it by posting 192 2/3 innings last season.

"Physically I stay on top of myself," said Morris. "There's a heavy demand on your body, but you find exercises that work."

Alou, who left his home in Florida -- where Morris also lives -- to attend the press conference, says the presence of the innings-eater will hopefully solve the Giants' main problem last season, when the starters rarely lasted into the sixth inning.

"We had pitchers throwing 100 pitches over four innings, 120 pitchers over five," said Alou. "Matt will stabilize the rotation, and next year the young pitchers will be more experienced. It's very important to have a man and pitcher of his stature."

Morris is also looking forward to helping Giants youngsters Lowry, Cain and Hennessey learn the Major League ropes and become better pitchers. Both Matheny and Morris are known for freely assisting staff hurlers.

"I don't just pitch every five days," said Morris. "In between, I'm pushing the other pitchers."

After trying on his new Giants uniform, the bearded Morris said he'll always be grateful for the older players' guidance early in his career, including Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley and hurlers Andy Benes and Todd Stottlemyre.

But it was the late Darryl Kile whose knowledge and humanity helped him the most.

"We were very similar in pitching and personalities," said Morris. "He pushed me to become better as a pitcher and a person."

In nine years with the Cardinals, Morris was 101-62 with a 3.21 ERA and is a two-time All-Star. Last season, he won his first eight decisions.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean said Monday that while the pitching staff is essentially complete with Morris aboard, there's a chance the Giants could trade a position player for another hurler (probably a fifth starter) but is still seeking a left-handed slugger.

Former San Franciscan Bill Mueller is among players they are pursuing.

In recent weeks, the Giants acquired reliever Tim Worrell and then inked veteran lefty Steve Kline to replace free agent Scott Eyre, now with the Chicago Cubs. They also signed infielder-outfielder Mark Sweeney last week to bolster the bench.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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