BALTIMORE – Last year former Gonzaga pitcher Eli Morgan arrived from Class AAA Columbus when Cleveland’s starting rotation was crumbling because of injuries. He stepped into the breach and made 18 starts, winning five, including his last three in succession.
This year with the Guardians’ rotation healthy, Morgan made the club as an emergency starter/long reliever because of the lockout-shortened spring training. He filled the role well and when the expanded rosters returned to 26 players on May 1, Morgan stayed in the big leagues.
Last Wednesday, after the Guardians completed a three-game sweep of the Royals with a 4-0 win, manager Terry Francona had a heart-to-heart with Morgan after watching him throw two scoreless innings in relief of starter Konnor Pilkington.
“I pulled him aside the other day when he came out of the game,” said Francona. “I said, ‘Hey, man, because of how you’re pitching, and your ability to go multiple innings, you cannot lie to me and say ‘I’m available.’ Because if I wear you out, I’m going to be mad at myself. He has really been good.”
Morgan is 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 14 games with four holds. He’s struck out 32 and walked four in 25 innings. He has not allowed a run in his last eight games and has allowed just two hits in his last seven appearances covering 101/3 innings.
The opposition is hitting .120 against him.
Morgan was selected by Cleveland in the eighth round of the 2017 draft. He went 21-5 in 44 games for Gonzaga with a 3.15 ERA and 281 strikeouts.
Francona, in talking about Morgan, called him a “weapon.”
Weapon or not, no one but Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis figured they’d see Morgan in the eighth inning Friday night with the Orioles three runs into a rally that had cut Cleveland’s lead in half at 6-3. There were two out, a runner on first and cleanup hitter Austin Hays was waiting for Morgan.
Morgan struck out Hays on 3-2 fastball that crossed the plate at 93 mph.
“It’s good to know he wants me to feel good and he’s not just going to run me out there whenever,” said Morgan, when asked about Francona’s message. “I’m getting used to the shorter outings and my arm is bouncing back really quick. So I should be able to do something like that more often.”
Morgan said getting the call in the bullpen to go into that situation means more responsibility and a rush of adrenaline.
“He showed up this spring significantly stronger, thicker,” said Francona. “He gained good weight, by design. His fastball plays. There are times when you look on the scoreboard and it says 95 mph. There are other times it says 92, but he gets it by hitters.
“And the change-up, even when they sit on it, it doesn’t get there. He’s in a place now where he knows he belongs and he can pitch.”
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