MIAMI — Adam Morgan — and almost everyone else in Marlins Park on Thursday night — knew Dee Gordon wanted to steal second base. Morgan threw to first base four times in the seventh inning of a 3-2 win over the Marlins. Gordon slid back to the bag as the crowd hissed more and more.
Morgan, a forgotten Phillies starter who has suddenly found a role as a dependable reliever, needed just one more strike to complete yet another scoreless inning. Gordon sprinted for second on ball three, sliding safely for the steal. And now Morgan had one of baseball’s fastest runners on second base. Morgan had a challenge. But if there’s a pitcher who knows about challenges, it’s him.
The lefthander was once a top pitching prospect before undergoing serious shoulder surgery in January 2014. Morgan missed that entire season and it would not have been a surprise if his career ended after a surgeon closed a gap in his left shoulder. Morgan rallied. He reached the majors 18 months later, managing to reinvent himself after the surgery sapped his fastball of its velocity.
But Morgan’s time as a starter was met with struggles. He bounced between the rotation and the bullpen before being dropped to triple A. He started this season in the majors but lasted just two games before being demoted. The former prospect looked like just another pitcher.
“You always have to have that burning desire inside of you to get through those tough times because you know that it’s going to get better,” Morgan said. “If you don’t know it’s going to get better, that’s when it starts to landslide and everything comes out from under you. You have to have the right attitude.”
Morgan entered Thursday night after Ben Lively grinded out six innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked one. Lively used his slider for four of his five strikeouts. All four were swinging strikes as the pitch’s effectiveness countered his fastball, which seemed to lack command.
The righthander loaded the bases in the second and third innings, but escaped the threats with just one run allowed. Lively showed no fear against Giancarlo Stanton, twice throwing up-and-in fastballs. Lively retired the slugger all three times he faced him, including a strikeout in the third inning.
“It felt really good,” Lively said of his slider. “I kind of veered away from it a little bit. I was relying on my curveball a lot this year and the curveball hasn’t been good the last couple of games, so let’s go with this one.”
Lively even drove in a pair of runs with a single in the fourth. His hit capped a three-run inning as Pedro Florimon slapped an RBI single. Rhys Hoskins walked in the first and singled in the third to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He is the first Phillies player since Chuck Klein in 1928 to have a 13-game hitting streak in the first month of his career.
The Phillies were bailed out in the eighth when Tomas Telis was signaled for batter’s interference when he ran on the infield grass following his tapper to the mound. Luis Garcia’s throw was wide of first, which appeared to allow the tying run to score before home plate umpire Brian Gorman signaled Telis out.
And if that wasn’t close enough, Hector Neris loaded the bases in the ninth before striking out J.T. Realmuto to earn the save. Hyun-Soo Kim made a sliding catch in left to record the second out and Stanton flew out loudly to center for the first out. It was not easy.
“Every time Stanton comes up, I get scared,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
Gordon was the first batter Morgan faced on Thursday and he greeted the pitcher with a single to center. The heart of the order was up, but Morgan did not wither. His fastball — once slowed by surgery — has been shocked back to life. It has zipped around 95 mph for the last month after sitting in the high 80s and low 90s for the last two seasons. It touched 96 mph on Thursday and moved with purpose. His secondary offerings have improved as a result.
“We were hoping that he would get to that point,” Mackanin said. “He has such increased velocity that it makes him much more effective, even with his breaking ball. He’s throwing a really good slider and I think we’ve found a role for him.”
Morgan fooled Stanton with a full-count change-up. He then whiffed Christian Yelich on a slider. Gordon then stole second, but Morgan would not flinch. He threw 10 pitches to Marcell Ozuna before the batter swung helplessly at a full-count change-up in the dirt. Another scoreless inning was complete. Morgan has allowed just one earned run in his last 14 1/3 innings. He has found his place three years after the game was nearly taken away from him. Morgan no longer looks like just another pitcher.
“I have to keep going,” Morgan said. “I’m not taking this success for granted because I know it can be taken away at any minute. Try to finish strong in September and see what happens after that. But it feels good. It’s awesome because you see that you can do it.”
Published at Fri, 01 Sep 2017 03:30:04 +0000