Bryan Morris certainly has the stuff to be an effective major league reliever, and everything he says and does not only makes it seem like he's best suited for the bullpen, but perhaps ultimately as a closer.
"Back end of the game, I guess it's just the mentality of, 'I've got to get these hitters out because the game is now on the line,' and I just go into attack mode," Morris said.
Morris was a disappointment as a starting pitcher for the Curve, both this year and last. But as a reliever, he's a different pitcher - the kind who looks like he deserves to be considered one of the Pirates' top prospects.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Bryan Morris has put together a solid season working out of the bullpen.
Morris made three starts for Altoona to open the season, suffered an oblique injury that sidelined him for a moth, then came back and made three more starts. In his final two starts in mid-June, he was rocked for 11 runs on 14 hits in 11 innings.
In his six starts, the 24-year-old right-hander posted a 1-3 record and 6.04 ERA. He also walked 16 while striking out 17 in 25 1/3 innings.
The Pirates obviously were concerned, so they figured they'd see what Morris could offer as a full-time reliever.
The results have been fantastic.
In 23 games, Morris has a 2.09 ERA. He's improved his numbers in every category, walking just 12 while striking out 33 in 38 2/3 innings and holding hitters to a .241 average, compared to .287 as a starter.
Most importantly, his fastball command has improved.
"The main part of my success from starting to relieving is the walks have gone down tremendously," he said.
"He's taken to the role, and he wants the ball," Curve pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said of Morris relieving. "When you're throwing mid-90s and then you're getting the slider over the plate, it's going to be hard to get any kind of rally off of a guy when you only face him once."
That's every reliever's advantage, plus it's one that also fits Morris' personality.
"As a starter, if I give up a run or two in the first couple innings, I felt like, 'OK, just keep going,'" he said. "It was more about getting deeper in the game than getting hitters out."
He takes a sense of urgency to the mound out of the bullpen.
"Late in the game, up one or two runs, a bad inning could cost us the game," Morris said.
"He has a mindset of a late-inning guy," Whitehurst said. "He comes in and has been doing a pretty good job of getting ahead 0-1, then he uses his offspeed pitches, and his slider's pretty good."
Morris made three relief appearances for the Curve late last season, but that move was necessitated to prevent him from piling up more innings as a starter. He went 6-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts for Altoona a year ago, then had a 4.76 ERA in the three relief outings.
The move to the pen this year wasn't about saving his arm. It was about saving his career, or more to the point, potentially giving him one at the big league level.
Morris had done little as a starter in Double-A to prove he could reach the major leagues or succeed there. Now that the Pirates are seeing what he can do as a reliever, there's been talk of him getting a September call-up.
"For this year if there's a chance, or even next year, I think it's going to be as a reliever," Whitehurst said of Morris' path to the majors. "Not saying that he couldn't start up there, but to get him there and get him acclimated to the major leagues as soon as possible this year or next year, it's going to be as a reliever."
Morris understands the move to the bullpen has "opened some doors for me." One additional door that someday might be opened is the closer's job in Pittsburgh.
That's a long ways off and might sound strange for a pitcher still in Double-A, but Morris' repertoire and, again, his mindset make him a good fit for that role.
Joel Hanrahan has been superb closing this season for the Pirates and should keep that job the next two years. He'll be a free agent after the 2013 season and will command a huge salary if the keeps performing well, so it's doubtful the Bucs would be able to afford him.
In a perfect situation, Morris could learn the ropes in the big leagues for a couple of years and perhaps be groomed for the closer's job at some point.
"That would be a tall hill to climb with Joel being there," Morris said of becoming the closer any time soon. "But mentality-wise, I feel like that's me.
"I've never met anyone that's more competitive than I am. One run really gets under my skin because I'm that competitive. I want to be the best on the field. That's always been me. Growing up, whatever game I played, I always wanted to be the main guy."
Morris is hoping for a September call-up, but regardless of whether he gets one or not, he plans to go to spring training next year trying to win a job on the big league roster.
There would be little chance for that to happen had he remained a starter, but it's not hard to believe Morris can pull it off as a reliever.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.