Morrow stifles Angels with three-hit shutout

Morrow stifles Angels with three-hit shutout

Morrow stifles Angels with three-hit shutout
ANAHEIM -- When Brandon Morrow is at the top of his game, there are very few lineups around baseball that have the ability to cause him any trouble.

If there were doubts about that prior to Thursday night, they were erased with a dominating performance. Morrow was seemingly able to throw strikes at will, and the end result was the most efficient outing of his tenure in the big leagues.

Morrow allowed just three baserunners en route to the second shutout of his career in Toronto's 5-0 victory over the Angels in front of 28,359 fans at Angel Stadium.

"My fastball command was really what did it for me," said Morrow, who threw 75 strikes compared with just 27 balls. "That's probably the best I've ever been with that. I felt like I could have hit that down-and-away strike with my eyes closed tonight."

There has never been any question of Morrow's abilities, but at times he has experienced difficulty stringing together quality starts. One of the main reasons for that in the past has been a lack of command, but that's something he has begun to change this season.

On April 28, Morrow recorded the first start of his career without issuing a walk. He followed that six-inning performance with an additional nine innings on Thursday without surrendering a free pass. In his past 21 2/3 innings, he has walked just one batter.

For Morrow, it all starts with the command of his fastball, which then creates an opening for a devastating slider and the occasional use of his curveball-changeup combination.

"I feel like I have a little bit better life to it, maybe not velocity but better life, especially down in the zone, than I did the first couple of starts," Morrow said of his fastball. "Really starting to get into a rhythm mechanically.

"Like I said, I hit that down and away pretty much every time I wanted to and then elevated when I wanted to, both sides of the plate. That was it. I felt like I probably could have thrown all fastballs tonight the way I was locating."

Morrow faced very little resistance from Los Angeles. He allowed just three hits -- two to leadoff hitter Mike Trout -- while striking out eight and inducing a pair of double plays.

Toronto's right-hander needed just 102 pitches and consistently found himself working ahead in counts. He faced one batter over the minimum and didn't allow a runner to reach scoring position until Mark Trumbo's double in the ninth.

Morrow's only previous complete game occurred on Aug. 8, 2010, when he came within one out of a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory against Tampa Bay. Since then, the most he has pitched in one start is eight innings -- a feat he has accomplished just twice in the past two seasons.

During that outing against Tampa Bay, Morrow struck out 17 but was forced to throw 136 pitches. That's one reason he felt that Thursday night's start might have been even more impressive, and his manager seemed to agree.

"By far, that's the best game I've seen him pitch," John Farrell said. "Just the powerful fastball, he was down in the zone all night, very good slider. He didn't really need his changeup all that much with how efficient [he was].

"They're an aggressive team, once you throw first-pitch strikes, you continue to locate, which he did, we played good defense behind him."

Morrow got all the run support he would need with one swing in the third inning. Brett Lawrie started the rally with a single to center, the first hit allowed by Los Angeles' pitching staff in 17 1/3 innings.

After Colby Rasmus singled, J.P. Arencibia crushed a first-pitch fastball from Dan Haren and sent it over the wall in left field for a three-run shot. It was Arencibia's second home run of the season and first since Opening Day, when he hit the go-ahead homer against Cleveland in the 16th inning.

Toronto struck again in the sixth but in no fault to Haren. With two on and two out, Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball to third base that was cleanly fielded by Trumbo. The inning appeared over, but instead Trumbo's throw went well wide of first base and allowed two runs to score.

Haren lasted seven innings and allowed those five runs -- three earned -- on five hits and two walks while striking out five. He threw 67 of his 101 pitches for strikes but lost his first game since April 7 vs. Kansas City.

"Three runs is a huge cushion as far as the pitch selection, how you pitch guys, you can kind of gamble a little bit more on different pitches," Arencibia said. "But with the way [Morrow] was out there tonight, a couple of runs was all he was going to need to be able to win that game."

The Blue Jays have won three consecutive games and five of their past six. They continue to receive strong outings from their rotation, as their starters have pitched at least five innings in 28 consecutive outings dating to last season.

None was better than Morrow's latest quality start, as he overpowered the Angels' lineup. Los Angeles' three through six hitters combined to go 0-for-12 with four strikeouts to snap a three-game winning streak and start Toronto's West Coast road trip off on the right foot.

"He's a competitive athlete," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said of Morrow. "He made good pitches, kept the ball down and didn't make too many mistakes. He was taking off some of his fastball. He wasn't just throwing 95 like he usually does. He was mixing his pitches pretty well and keeping us off-balance."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.