Through six innings, Brandon Morrow had done a reasonable job of shutting down the A's. 94 pitches got him through 22 batters, six of whom struck out and only four of whom reached base. His control and location hadn't been perfect, but they'd been good enough, and all in all the start represented considerable improvement over Morrow's two outings previous. It appeared as if we would be able to close the book on the second-best start of Morrow's brief starting career.
But with a 3-0 lead, with Morrow's 94 pitches being his second-highest total as a pro, Jim Riggleman decided to let his young flamethrower go back out there for the seventh. This after throwing 80 pitches last time and 90 pitches the time before.
The first batter flew out on a first-pitch slider that was 3mph below Morrow's average.
The second batter walked on seven fastballs averaging 92mph, one of which clocked in at a hair under 90.
The third batter doubled on a 92mph fastball in a full count.
The fourth batter walked on five pitches, the last one coming in at the neck.
Riggleman finally came out to relieve Morrow of his duties, his pitch count having risen to a career-high 113. Just eight of his 19 pitches in the seventh inning were strikes, and his 92mph average fastball was two ticks below where he'd stood for the first six innings. Some informative pretty pictures:
Morrow's velocity wasn't the only indicator of his fatigue, either. Check out the average height of his fastballs by inning:
As a pitcher fatigues, it's common to see him struggle to get the same forward extension towards home plate as when he's fresh, resulting in erratic command, frequently up in the zone. Which is pretty much exactly what we saw happen with Morrow this afternoon.
Seems pretty clear to me that Morrow was gassed by the seventh. Completely and utterly gassed. For good measure, four of the five offspeed pitches he threw in the inning missed the zone. He didn't have a single thing working, and yet in a meaningless game he was allowed to throw 19 additional meaningless pitches, the final seven of which established a new career high.
I get that the bullpen has been a disaster. I get that Riggleman wants this losing streak to end. And I get that the team feels a lot of pressure to get Morrow stretched out as quickly as possible. But Morrow's handling today was not in the team's best interests. Even if you excuse Riggleman for sending him back out to start the seventh - which we didn't support at the time - there's no excuse for having left him in after the first walk. When a guy who normally throws 94-96 misses with a fastball at 89, that is the reddest of red flags. Were I a manager, that would've sent me bolting out of the dugout on a beeline to the mound to get my guy out of the game before he could throw another pitch.
Brandon Morrow will probably be fine, and I'm not trying to scare anyone into histrionics over injury concerns. But the way Riggleman used Morrow today was bad, and not because it opened the door for the A's to come back. It was bad because Morrow wasn't ready for this sort of treatment, with the seventh inning offering all kinds of evidence. Just because the Mariners want to get him stretched out quickly doesn't mean he'll be able to proceed at their dictated pace, and I would really prefer to see them be as cautious as possible when it comes to Morrow's usage pattern. Days like today can only do far greater harm than good.
Brandon Morrow pitched pretty well this afternoon. It's a shame that whole episode at the end had to go and ruin it. Please Mariners, if there is any good in your heart, do not allow this to happen again. Let Morrow get stretched out at his own pace, instead of forcing upon him your own. It's not worth it. It's not worth it.