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Morales jumps to the main stage

Morales jumps to the main stage

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PHILADELPHIA -- Only one year ago, Franklin Morales had just finished a pretty good season at Class A Modesto. Three months ago, he was playing in the All-Star Futures Game.

The future, as Morales represents it for the Colorado Rockies, has arrived quickly.

On Wednesday, with a total of eight starts on his Major League resume, the 21-year-old Venezuelan left-hander will start Game 2 of the NLDS for the Rockies against the Phillies.

After ace Jeff Francis won Game 1, manager Clint Hurdle was feeling fine about sending Morales to the mound for Game 2.

"He has pitched here before and I think that might help his comfort zone a little bit," Hurdle said of Morales, whose first Major League win came at Citizens Bank Park Sept. 11. "We don't have any problem giving him the ball right now."

Heady stuff for the rookie, don't you think?

The rookie doesn't.

"I'm not nervous now, and I don't expect to get nervous," Morales said in Spanish in a media conference before Wednesday's Game 1. "I'll be 100 percent ready for the game."

No reason to doubt him. Talk about the fast track. After going 10-9 with a 3.68 ERA last year and leading the California League in strikeouts, he encountered visa problems and was late for Spring Training, then was assigned to Double-A Tulsa, where he immediately suffered a hamstring strain that sidelined him for a month.

He made 17 starts there, going 3-4, and was promoted in August to Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he was expected to finish the season. But the unexpected injuries to starters Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez and Jason Hirsch on the Major League level left the Rockies desperately needing a starter and Morales was promoted in time to start Aug. 18 against the Dodgers.

He allowed only one run over 5 1/3 innings, getting a no-decision in a game Colorado won, 7-4. In his second start Aug. 23 against Pittsburgh at Coors Field, Morales encountered the wildness that has been his greatest hurdle, walking five in the first of two consecutive losses.

But with fellow Venezuelan catcher Yorvit Torrealba guiding him, Morales has finished strong. He is 3-0 over his last four starts, allowing only three runs in 22 innings. In his first career win here on Sept. 11, he threw five scoreless innings in an 8-2 victory. He followed that with six scoreless innings to beat Florida, allowed only one hit in six shutout innings against the Padres and beat the Dodgers in his regular-season finale Sept. 27.

"He pitches with his heart," said Hurdle. "He obviously uses his left arm pretty efficiently, also. He brings it. He works quick, he's got a quick arm. He's a young kid that can throw that curveball 70 mph and then he can run the fastball in the low 90s, so he gives you a gap that you have to cover as a hitter. He can speed you up, he can slow you down. He's very aggressive and a good athlete and he fields his position."

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Between Morales (3-2, 3.43) and rookie Game 3 starter Ubaldo Jimenez, Hurdle is proving he doesn't check birth certificates before he sets up his rotation.

"Isn't it a great story?" said Hurdle. "Neither one of them so far has had their hair blown back. I think there have been small snapshots where they've probably had to go, 'Wow,' but they've gotten things right back in place, because what we've asked of them has been a tremendous task. For them, it's been the same thing as eating an elephant, one bite at a time."

Morales also was an outfielder when signed out of youth ball in Venezuela for a $50,000 bonus, but the Rockies gave him the choice of positions, and he decided to pitch. He's got a legitimate big league swing (4-for-13, .308), he can field his position athletically and he has an above-average pickoff move to first base.

"[Morales is] impressive with his composure," teammate Todd Helton said. "He throws strikes in tough situations, he throws 3-2 breaking balls for strikes. He's kept a level head in big situations."

Assistant general manager Bill Geivett said Morales has harnessed a fastball that was clocked last year at 98 mph, but this year is more frequently around 94 mph.

"He's figured out that he's much better off against experienced hitters by not throwing quite so hard, but having better command," Geivett said. "He's got a high-velocity fastball and a sharp-breaking curve. I've got to give credit to Rolando Fernandez, our head of South American Operations, and Francisco Cartaya, our scouting supervisor in Venezuela. They've done a great job with our program down there."

Ken Gurnick 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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