With strong outing, Morris gives ‘pen a crucial break

19 minutes ago

CLEVELAND — If nothing else, the Guardians were able to execute their pitching plans as effectively as possible on Sunday afternoon, after a near five-and-a-half-hour, 15-inning marathon the night before.

The Guardians are playing what is arguably the biggest week of their season. Four games against the second-place White Sox and five games against the third-place Twins in a span of eight days is a tough task. And with no off-day for over a week, the Guardians couldn’t afford to lean heavily on their bullpen another day. Even though Cleveland took a 3-0 loss with just three hits at Progressive Field on Sunday, the Guardians were still able to take away some positives heading into another difficult week.

The first takeaway is the growth of Cody Morris. The Guardians have been excited about his arm for a while, and there was never a doubt that he was going to be a September callup after his impressive rehab assignment in August. The problem was that the Guardians expected him to be working out of the ‘pen when he arrived in the big leagues, but just as the calendars flipped to September, the team lost both Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac to injury, meaning Morris had to pivot his way back into the starting rotation.

However, Morris wasn’t stretched out to be a starter. He didn’t have much time to get lengthened out after missing the beginning of the season due to a right shoulder strain, and in any case, he’d been preparing to work in relief in the Majors. So, the day after a doubleheader that included the 15-inning matchup, it was critical for Morris to be efficient in order to remain in the game as long as possible.

“I mean, it’s obviously encouraging to go deeper in the game,” Morris said. “Obviously we lost and I gave up a run, but yeah, I thought I pitched a lot better today and it’s definitely something to work with.”

This is Morris’s fourth turn through the rotation. He’s increased his pitch count each outing, so he was in better shape to handle this workload than he would have been a few weeks ago. However, knowing he was still limited to around 80 pitches coming into the day, it was hard to know just how many innings the bullpen would have to get through. But Morris stepped up and permitted just one run — via a solo shot by Jake Cave — on six hits through six frames, leaving just three innings of work for the relievers as he continued to show signs of improvement.

“I thought he was terrific,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He filled up the strike zone, better each time out, changeup was effective. As he gets more consistency with that curveball, that’s certainly going to help.”

“Just figuring stuff out, throwing more changeups, being confident with it, throwing a lot more cutters, threw some good curveballs today,” Morris said. “Just pitching backwards a little bit better and just starting to figure stuff out.”

The Guardians also witnessed a positive step for Eli Morgan when he tossed two scoreless frames after Morris’ departure, allowing just two hits. And when Enyel De Los Santos ran into trouble with two outs in the ninth, Cleveland couldn’t afford to run another arm to the mound and decided to let him finish out the game, regardless of the outcome, to help the other seven relievers take a much-needed break heading into Monday’s series finale against the Twins before leaving for Chicago.

“Trying not to get a line moving out there, because we couldn’t afford to,” Francona said. “And also we get [Morgan] back kind of being that weapon, it’s really important.”

Even after the defeat snapped the Guardians’ eight-game winning streak against the Twins, Cleveland has still won 11 of its last 14 overall. With the defeat, the White Sox moved to within 3 1/2 games of the Guardians. That creates more urgency for Cleveland to lock up one more win on Monday before the three-game set in Chicago, which would allow the Guardians to enter the series with a four-game lead.