Morrow K's 11 in Vizquel's final game

Morrow K's 11 in Vizquel's final game

Morrow K's 11 in Vizquel's final game
TORONTO -- In a Blue Jays' season where so many things went wrong, Brandon Morrow was one of the things that went right.

Despite missing significant time because of injury, Morrow used the 2012 campaign to establish himself as one of the elite pitchers in the American League. He transformed into the type of frontline starter most people envisioned back in 2006 when the Mariners selected him with the fifth overall pick of the First-Year Player Draft.

Morrow put the final stamp on his breakthrough year and the Blue Jays' disappointing season by tossing eight quality innings during the final game of the regular season in Toronto's 2-1 victory over the Twins on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

"I thought I took a lot of steps forward in my development as a starter," Morrow said. "It's those two other pitches that I used a lot this year. I think the development of my changeup and split-finger was a key for me all year.

"It kept me out of a lot of trouble, I was able to throw them for strikes down in the zone and get ground balls. That really helped keeping them off my fastball all year."

Morrow's performance this season came at a time when the rest of the Blue Jays pitching staff took a major step back. Opening Day starter Ricky Romero and No. 3 Henderson Alvarez struggled for most of the year, while injuries also took a toll following the departure of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison to Tommy John surgery.

Morrow is the biggest positive that can be taken away from this season, even though he missed more than two months during the middle of the year because of a right oblique injury.

The 28-year-old finished second in the AL in shutouts (three), fourth in the American League with a .221 opponents' batting average (minimum 115 innings) and led the Blue Jays with 10 wins. His 23 2/3 scoreless innings streak from April 23-May 9 was the longest by any pitcher in the AL this season.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell said he watched Morrow transform into a different kind of pitcher this season, and it all began back in Spring Training.

"He has continued to evolve into a pitcher rather than a one-inning reliever that was converted into a starter," Farrell said. "He was able to lengthen out in-game outings, inning over inning, his efficiency has continued to climb and I think that's a direct result of the refinement of those off-speed pitches, where we've seen a lot of high pitch counts because of foul balls, a lot of strikeouts. But he is definitely a positive here this year."

It was more of the same from Morrow in his final outing of the year. He allowed just three hits and three walks, while striking out a season-high 11 and throwing 110 pitches. It was his longest outing since returning from injury in late August, and marked the seventh time this year that he has gone at least seven innings in a start.

Morrow's lone blemish occurred in the fourth inning, when he allowed the first two batters to reach base. The California native then loaded the bases before one run came around to score on a fielder's choice off the bat of Matt Carson.

The effective outing meant that Morrow was able to improve his record to 10-7, while finishing with a 2.96 ERA in 124 2/3 innings. He also surpassed the 100-strikeout plateau on Wednesday, finishing with 108 this season compared to just 41 walks.

"I felt more aggressive all year with all of my stuff going after guys," Morrow said. "But that comes with being able to throw strikes with everything, too. When you're handcuffed just throwing fastball/slider, and they're laying off your slider, you feel like all you can do is throw a fastball up there and you get yourself into trouble. I was aggressive all year and tried to keep that mentality in every start."

Toronto did all of its damage in the third inning against Canadian left-hander Scott Diamond. Rookie outfielder Anthony Gose got things started with a two-out triple, while Rajai Davis and Adeiny Hechavarria followed later in the frame with a pair of RBI singles. Diamond was charged with both runs, on five hits and one walk in five innings.

"The first time coming home and having all the people in the stands, the adrenaline was running a little more than usual," said Diamond, who grew up in nearby Guelph, Ontario. "But I felt like I did a pretty good job of controlling it for the most part. I can't be too disappointed with the way it turned out."

With the victory, the Blue Jays avoided finishing 2012 with 90 losses. The 73-89 record is still well short of what the club expected this season, but not overly surprising considering all of the injuries the team suffered through this season.

The club used a team-record 34 pitchers and 21 position players to get through all 162 games. It created a lot of uncertainty, a lack of stability and something that couldn't have been envisioned just six months ago.

"Opening Day -- which turned into night in Cleveland, 16-inning [game] -- I think I mentioned if this is a sign of this season it's going to be a wild ride," Farrell said. "I don't think anybody thought it would turn out to be the wild ride that it ended up being because of all the injuries that we faced and the different changes that took place."

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.