Miscues marr Morales' outing vs. Cubs

Miscues marr Morales' outing

MESA, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales attacked hitters aggressively for five innings on Thursday afternoon. There's no disputing that.

What good it did for Morales' candidacy for a spot in the Rockies' rotation is another matter. From a pure talent standpoint, Morales, 22, should be one of the five. But outings like Thursday, when he yielded six runs, five earned, and seven hits in five innings of an 8-6 Rockies loss to the Cubs give pause.

That outing, and 10 hits and nine runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Mariners in his previous outing, are among the reasons the Rockies have to make decisions on two slots instead of one.

Of course, three veteran pitchers -- right-handers Kip Wells and Josh Towers and lefty Mark Redman -- haven't distinguished themselves either, and righty Jason Hirsh will begin the year on the disabled list as he recovers from a shoulder strain. So by no means has Morales pitched himself out of a job.

"There's room for improvement," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who noted that Morales is better when he repeats his proper delivery. "He's got some things he's going to have to work on.

"We've got some decisions to make here shortly. The thing is they're putting us in a position where we can't make a wrong one."

Morales pitched much of 2007 at Double-A Tulsa, did a short stint at Triple-A Colorado Springs, then was called up in August. His 3-2 record and 3.43 ERA in eight starts helped the Rockies to the playoffs, but his inexperience showed when he posted a 9.90 ERA in four playoff games that included two starts.

Thursday was one of those outings that left the Rockies rejoicing and wondering.

He breezed through the first five batters and began the second inning with strikeouts of Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome. But Matt Murton and Mark DeRosa doubled, and Henry Blanco hit a two-run homer. Throughout the day, he'd follow impressive sequences with poorly located pitches. The unearned run sequence began with a walk, included his own error and finished with his wild pitch.

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"I felt that my fastball was doing really good," Morales said, with Minor League coach Houston Jimenez translating his Spanish. "I was aggressive with all the batters. I didn't care about the result. I kept throwing the way I was throwing the first inning, but I don't know what happened."

Of being hit hard by the bottom of the Cubs' order, Morales said he "couldn't really see the difference because I was trying to do the same pitches."

Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said he clearly understood what went wrong and what Morales has to learn.

"In this league, it's execution," Apodaca said. "I don't think there's any question that he's an aggressive young pitcher. I don't think there's any question that when he executes a pitch, he's going to have positive results.

"Looking at the swings of Alfonso Soriano, of Derrek Lee, of Aramis Ramirez when he executed pitches, that's what he must focus on, not just pure aggression."

The problem, Apodaca said, is Morales' lack of execution takes his breaking pitch and his changeup out of the equation. Falling behind in counts, and not being able to go to the other pitches, limits catcher Yorvit Torrealba's choices.

"Right now he is basically a one-pitch pitcher," Apodaca said. "Major League pitchers, we have to expect that you can execute a game plan."

Hurdle refused to answer whether the Rockies are considering sending Morales to Triple-A for experience. He said he isn't going to be gloomy about the pitching, despite the Cactus League struggles. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who has slightly more experience in the Majors than Morales, but has been named the No. 3 starter behind Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, has experienced rough stretches in his last two outings, also.

Hurdle would just like for Morales or any of the others make decisions easier.

"Everybody's shown some flashes of some good things pitching," Hurdle said. "It's just the inconsistency down here. You don't like it. You'd like everybody to incrementally get better as you go through, so there's some confidence and some momentum moving in the right direction at the end.

"But that said, we've seen guys just fall on their face in Spring Training, but then the season starts, boom, they're off and running. I'm just trying to keep it in perspective."

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