Let's forget for a moment that this was Morrow's fifth Major League start and go back to the checklist I wrote up before his first:
(1) High-90s fastball
Nope. Morrow threw 75 fastballs tonight, and only one of them clocked in higher than 96 (96.3). By comparison, he threw 25 under 93, and registered an overall average of 93.5. Assuming there's nothing wacky going on with the PITCHf/x data, Morrow didn't have the same heat he was flashing all the time against the Yankees. Not even particularly close. This was a lot more along the lines of what I was anticipating before he went and gave my bar of expectations a swift kick in the crotch. This was his bullpen fastball minus a few expected miles for the transition. Predictably, it wasn't as good.
(2) Sustained velocity
Check, sort of. Where Morrow trailed off towards the end of his last start (presumably due to the unprecedented pitch count), today he fought through an early lull and averaged 93.9 on his fastball in the fifth inning. Of course, his average was 92.2 in the third and his final fastball of the night came in at a hair over 90, so he wasn't perfect, but for the most part he did manage to finish with ~as much heat as he had when he started.
(3) 30% offspeed stuff
Check. 34%. Of Morrow's 114 pitches tonight, 15 were sliders, 13 were changeups, and 11 were curveballs. That's still a little Felixy, so it's not ideal, but for a pitcher in Morrow's position who's so frequently trying to battle back from behind in the count, 34% is pretty good. That suggests either a fair bit of confidence on Morrow's part in his offspeed pitches, or a commitment to getting better no matter the immediate consequences. I'll take it.
(4) Changeup to lefties
Check, sort of. Morrow threw 78 pitches to left-handed batters tonight, with 13 of them being changeups. That's not phenomenal, but it's okay, considering he also threw 10 curveballs. The problem is that his changeup just sucked. Suck-diddly-ucked. Of his 13 changeups, ten were balls and none were missed. He threw it, and the intentions were there, but it just wasn't working in the least. This weapon will very obviously require a whole lot of work.
Heavens no. 114 pitches, five innings, 4.4 pitches per batter. Only seven of 26 plate appearances lasted fewer than four pitches, and only six of them started with a strike. Video of this game would be like Red Asphalt for pitching coaches. This was five consecutive innings of the Mediocre Morrow that at times drove us so crazy out of the bullpen.
If you'd have asked me back in March to predict what Morrow would look like as a new starter, this is the sort of game I probably would've described. His fastball velocity didn't carry over all that well, he couldn't throw many strikes, and his offspeed stuff was interesting but incredibly raw. The only real difference - and this is encouraging - is that 20 of Morrow's 26 breaking balls were strikes, five of the swinging variety. The break wasn't always consistent, and the location wasn't always where he wanted it to be, but he was able to find the zone, which is a plus. On a night when he couldn't control his fastball or changeup, I don't even want to imagine how ugly this could've gotten had the breaking balls bailed on him too. Bless their loyalty.
Maybe some of Morrow's struggles tonight were a byproduct of his high pitch count from last time. I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me if that played a part. But overall I think the take-home message is that it's going to take a lot of work before you can pencil Morrow's name into the top of the rotation. Which pretty much all of us already expected, but I know after New York we were hoping for a miracle, and at this point that doesn't look likely. So Morrow's going to have to work his ass off to get there instead. Cross your fingers that he's up to the task. The world always needs more of that kind of talent. And God knows so do we.