May 20, 2008 2:55 PM
A tale of two pitchers
Morales, perhaps, made the most dramatic debut for a Rockies starting pitcher, coming to the rescue of a 2007 team desperate for pitching help, thanks to injuries that wiped out three fifths of the opening day rotation. In eight starts last season, Franklin posted a 3.43 ERA, the lowest in franchise history of starters to make at least that many appearances. He also tied a club record for consecutive innings pitched without allowing a run, and of course helped take the team to only its second playoff berth.
In 2008, the wheels came off; as a drop in velocity without an improvement in his command saw the number of runners he let on base per inning climb from 1.27 in 2007 to 1.82 in 2008. The amount of runs he allowed nearly doubled, with his ERA climbing to 6.39 before his demotion to Colorado Springs. Video from his starts in 2007 compared to 2008 shows a host of differences, from a lower inconsistent release point to a lessened use of his legs to drive his velocity. Alex Eisenberg of the website Baseball Intellect recently made a detailed analysis of Morales' mechanical problems, including frame by frame comparisons of his delivery in both seasons, which you can read at this link.
What's going wrong with Morales' mechanics is easier to answer than how he got that way. Young players will often lack consistent offseason workout programs, and when away from the scrutiny of coaches have been known to develop bad habits. Another possibility is in attempting to improve Morales command, Rockies pitching coaches may have inadvertently thrown the young pitcher off of what had made him successful in the past.
Currently, Rockies roving minor league pitching instructor Jim Wright and Sky Sox pitching coach Chuck Kniffin have been working to bring Morales back to his 2007 form and restore the left-hander's confidence, but as Saturday night's start showed, the fixes aren't going to come easy. At this point, the Rockies still hope Morales can return to the major league team sometime this summer, but are prepared to go without him if necessary.
Part of that preparedness comes in the form of Greg Reynolds, who in two starts for the Rockies has quickly solidified a flagging rotation and shown the kind of promise that led the team to select him with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. While Reynolds' rapid rise to the majors this season was in part the result of the misfortune of Morales and others, that shouldn't take away from his promise for this season and beyond with the Rockies.
Reynolds' main pitch is a straight four-seam fastball, which he can locate anywhere in the strike zone and which has averaged 91mph over his two MLB starts, but when effective will generate a high percentage of groundballs nonetheless, thanks to an exceptional use of his 6'7" frame to generate a downward plane. In addition, he'll use a change-up, which he had trouble locating in his debut against San Diego but is typically a plus pitch, and a sharp curve ball.
In Saturday night's start, he also was very effective with a two seam fastball, which is more of a split-fingered pitch than a typical sinker. It's a relatively new pitch for him, which he started using his Junior year at Stanford, but which he's really developed since entering the Rockies system two years ago. He used the splitter twice to set up lefty Joe Mauer before he popped foul to end the third, and then again to induce right hander Craig Monroe to swing and miss for his second and final strikeout of the night.
The lack of knowledge of this fourth pitch -one that certainly appears to be another plus in his arsenal- could be one of the reasons why Reynolds often gets overlooked by outside observers (Eisenberg, for instance, labeled him one of baseball's "most overrated" pitching prospects this past winter) but Reynolds carries himself like a pitcher that's deserving of more attention. That fearlessness to attack hitters and confidence in his stuff shows that the mental game that Morales currently struggles with, Reynolds is excelling in.
Colorado Springs: Ian Stewart continues to tear up the PCL, winning player of the week honors for the second straight time. He's currently on a 14 game hitting streak in which he's batting .425. 14 of his 20 hits in that time have gone for extra bases, including six homeruns. As hot as his bat is, Seth Smith is hitting just about as well. Over that same span, Smith's had hits in twelve of the thirteen games he's played in (walked twice in the other) and is batting .447 with 21 hits, including four homeruns. Nobody seems to be advocating a free Seth campaign...
Tulsa: Ching-lung Lo seemed to be getting over his early season slump with his second strong start in his last three appearances on Sunday, but a blister on his middle finger forced a fifth inning exit. Tony Blanco homered for the third straight game that day, and has homered in five of his last eight contests. The veteran Blanco is now hitting .311 since being called up to Tulsa last month.
Modesto: Aneury Rodriguez had a fine follow up to his one hitter on May 11th, pitching seven innings against Visalia, allowing just one run on seven hits, striking out seven. Cole Garner -working with Nuts hitting instructor Duane Espy- has been having an exceptional month of May, hitting .429 with seven multiple hit games his last ten. He was hit by a pitch and pulled from the game in his first plate appearance last night.
Asheville: Jhoulys Chacin continues to rack up quality starts and turn heads in the SAL, eight of his nine starts this season have gone six innings or more with three earned runs or less, including last Friday's eight inning, five hit, one run victory over Charleston. A recent Jack Etkin article at Baseball America had Tourists pitching coach Doug Linton comparing Chacin's changeup to Johan Santana's.