Morrow's shutout has Blue Jays flying high

Morrow's shutout has Blue Jays flying high

Morrow's shutout has Blue Jays flying high
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays weren't sure what they were getting when they traded for Brandon Morrow in the winter of 2009.

More than two years later, things are starting to become clear.

Morrow dominated the Mets, tossing a three-hit shutout, while the offense picked him up in the fifth to propel the Blue Jays to a 2-0 win on Saturday at Rogers Centre.

"He's obviously pitching with a lot of confidence," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "This has been a two-plus year progression for him. From converting him from a reliever to a full-time starter. Getting through 2010 from a physical standpoint. Last year, understanding what makes him most effective. ... You're seeing all the package come together."

The key for Morrow on Saturday was working ahead; he threw first-pitch strikes to six straight batters to start the game and pounded the zone with his four-seam fastball, which he had terrific command of all afternoon. In total, he started 21 of 30 batters off with a strike and struck out eight on the day -- the fifth consecutive start he's punched out at least seven.

It was the second shutout of Morrow's career -- both of which have come this year. He improved to 5-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.63 and WHIP to 0.96.

The right-hander has always had exceptional stuff -- a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, coupled with a wipeout slider -- but he hasn't before seen the results he's getting this season. Whether it's maturity, poise or developing a better feel for his secondary pitches, Morrow has emerged as a frontline starter.

When Toronto acquired him from the Mariners, he had experience both starting and in relief, but the Blue Jays immediately penciled him into the rotation and have stuck with him there. They are being rewarded for that decision.

"There are a few different phases along the way," Morrow said about the transition to becoming a full-time starter. "I definitely came into Spring Training with a plan this year, and I've stuck to that. I think that's the biggest thing -- I identified some weaknesses last year and worked to fix them, and along with those, my fastball command has been very good."

After leading the American League with 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011 while being one of only three pitchers in the Majors to record 200 strikeouts in less than 200 innings, Morrow's punchouts and velocity were down to start the season. That's all changed.

In his last five starts, Morrow has struck out 42 in 35 innings and routinely touched 95-mph plus, although his speed was a bit down Saturday. That's a good sign for Morrow, as he has proven that while he has a plus fastball, he can still be effective -- if not dominant -- without his best zip on it.

What often held Morrow back last year and for much of his career has been his command. He had one of the highest walk rates among all AL starters over the past two seasons, but he has put a lot of those problems behind him.

Morrow's walk rate is down considerably and is easily at the lowest mark of his career. Before issuing four free passes in each of his past two starts entering Saturday, he posted back-to-back games with no walks. It was the first time in his career that Morrow hadn't walked a batter in a start. Saturday, the precise control was back, as he walked just one batter to start the ninth inning.

He didn't need much help, but got the necessary support in the fifth inning.

After Jeff Mathis hit a two-out single to left off Mets reliever Jeremy Hefner -- who replaced Miguel Batista (lower back discomfort) to start the third -- Kelly Johnson followed by smacking a double to right-center to cash him in. Johnson reached third on the play, as Mets center fielder Andres Torres mishandled the ball and let it slip by him. Yunel Escobar then drove home Johnson with an opposite-field single to right that put Toronto ahead, 2-0.

Johnson, who has reached base in 14 consecutive games, gets a good view of Morrow from second base and loves what he has seen from him this year.

"It's a blast, the guy has such electric stuff," said Johnson, who went 2-for-4. "When he's locating like that and working at that pace, it makes it so easy on us. He's been phenomenal, been like that the whole year. So comfortable and poised and just dealing."

Blue Jays All-Star Jose Bautista was quiet at the plate, but he made up for it with a couple of strong defensive plays. In the sixth inning, Torres smoked a line drive to right that Bautista ran back to the wall, reached out and made a terrific grab to end the frame.

Later, it was time for Bautista to show off his arm. The Mets, who mounted their biggest threat against Morrow in the top of the ninth, had one on with one out when designated hitter Mike Baxter stepped up to the plate.

Baxter smacked a ball down the right-field line that Bautista got to quickly, spun around and fired a bullet to Escobar at second to gun Baxter down. The play didn't come without controversy, though, as Baxter and Mets manager Terry Collins argued the play, insisting that Escobar missed him with the tag.

Scott Hairston, who pinch-hit in the ninth, reached third on the play and was just the second Mets player to get into scoring position.

"Morrow was sharp [today]," Baxter said. "He made a lot of good pitches, he mixed well, elevated the fastball in the zone. He threw really well."

The Blue Jays won their fifth straight at home since Sept. 23-27, 2010, in front of 34,962 fans, the second biggest crowd of the season.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.