Chess Match: Game 39


No “Covering the Bases” today. I’m going to switch things up and go with a “Chess Match,” breaking down an important moment in the Blue Jays’ 5-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday.

The situation: Josh Hamilton at the plate for the Rangers with no outs and runners on the corners in the first inning. Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow on the mound.

The decision: Alternate fastballs and offspeed pitches until reaching a 2-2 count, then switching things up by going with consecutive changeups.

The outcome: Hamilton strikes out swinging on a changeup from Morrow with a full count. Young was running on the play, and Blue Jays catcher John Buck threw him out at second base for a critical strikeout-caught stealing in the first. Morrow then strikes out Nelson Cruz to escape the inning unscathed.

The analysis: This arguably set the tone for the entire game for Morrow. Entering Sunday, the right-hander had a 7.71 ERA in the first inning and he was coming off a disastrous outing in Boston, where he allowed six runs with six walks in just 1 2/3 innings. Morrow ran into another early jam, but settled in and shut Texas down.

In this outing, Buck and Morrow opted to focus more on offspeed pitches than the right-hander’s hard four-seam fastball. That meant more curve balls, more changeups and more two-seam fastballs. Morrow throws a hard change — around 90-91 mph — but it is enough off his 95 mph fastball to keep hitters honest when it’s working.

During Saturday’s game, Hamilton struck out three times against Ricky Romero’s changeup. During that first-inning at-bat on Sunday, Hamilton swung through a changeup from Morrow on a 1-0 count. Hamilton entered the game with a .211 average when in a 2-2 count, so a change was a good call. The hitter resisted temptation and worked the count full. Hamilton was hitting .357 with a 3-2 count.

Sticking with the changeup was a good choice for Morrow. First off, Hamilton had already shown he was having trouble with the pitch. Beyond that, Buck and Morrow entered with a game plan and it was important to keep on it. Firing another heater there might have played into Hamilton’s hand.

The comment: “He hadnt shown 94 five times in a row when he needed to reach back and get it. We had thrown some other pitches, which I think it helped those hitters not quite be on that 94, because you don’t see it over and over again. You see stuff bending. You see some stuff sinking.” — Buck

My verdict: In my book, this was the most important at-bat of the game (although Jason Frasor getting out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam with only one run allowed in the seventh was also important). Morrow had shown in other starts that if he could get through the first few innings relatively unharmed, then he could get into a good rhythm. When he has run into trouble early, it has led to some nasty innings and some ugly pitching lines. Having Buck throw out Young on top of the strikeout made this as critical as any other moment in the game.

Expect more “Chess Match” and “Covering the Bases” throughout the season



  1. gsjays

    One of the things I felt caused Morrow difficulty in past outings was the consistent use of the fastball to the point everyone in the stands knew what Morrow was going to throw. Doesn’t matter how good it is, if hitters see it enough time without fear of off speed pitches, it’s going to get hit.
    -just ask A.J. Burnett.

    So it’s nice to see him become more of a pitcher than a thrower and mix up the pitch selection, because it makes his fastball more effective. Nice start yesterday.

  2. yerouttaheah

    Great post, Jordan, and it’s nice to see Morrow developing. Power arms like Morrow’s can live and die on their fastball in the minors, because there may be only 1-2 guys in the lineup that they can’t throw it past. When they get to the bigs, they quickly find that there are 9 guys in the lineup that love to hit fastballs. If they can’t learn to get their breaking stuff across for strikes, their big league careers can be nasty, brutish, and short.

  3. goodluckdoc

    IF playing in the AL east isn’t tough enough, I love how the Jays are also facing all the NL division leaders or teams leading the wild card in Interleague play.
    Other than colorado rockies, we are facing the top teams in the NL, the phillies, giants and padres.

    comparitively the rays are facing the:

    Thats pretty much giving another team about 5 more wins
    i think beeston needs to write to MLB pointing this out, perhaps they should do it in the future such that all AL east teams face all NL east teams once, instead of random teams.

    I was too lazy to research into Yankees and RedSox

  4. bluejazzed

    If a minor league pitcher can throw heat past most hitters, and has ML aspirations, what woud stop him from building a more diverse repetoire of pitches on the way up, and completely dominate (ie. mess up the few who can hit the fastballs at the minor league level)?

    Is the difficulty factor so high, that it just takes time? … is it a function of there being so few who can teach the art of change ups and off speed pitches? …

    Curious to hear from anyone with insight on the subject.

  5. yerouttaheah

    I probably didn’t explain myself very well, bluejazzed. Any pitcher that wants to pitch in the majors needs to be able to throw a variety of pitches. That being said, I have heard off-speed pitches described as “feel” pitches. You may have seen a pitcher start a game, and go one or two innings before he has control of his breaking pitches. If he can bring it at 95-98 mph, then he can probably throw it past a lot of minor league hitters, and do OK. Once he gets to the majors, there is a big mental adjustment, because there are a lot more guys that can hit those pitches, and he has to rely on messing up their timing, or getting them to chase balls off the plate, etc. I think it’s more of an adjustment for a power pitcher than it is for a guy with a “normal” fastball.

    One thing AA has said he wants to do is start at the bottom of the system and build a Blue Jays “philosophy”, or “method” if you will, so that players coming through the system are trained in such a way that when they get to the big club, the adjustments are minimal. This is something that the really good farm systems like Boston’s do already, and it should be a big help to up and coming players, including pitchers.

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