'So far, so good' for Morrow's LA comeback

Right-hander hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2018 season

February 20th, 2021

Soon after being released by the Cubs last July, Brandon Morrow received a text from Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. At the time, Morrow said he was “50-50” about attempting another Major League comeback.

But as the months went on, Morrow started to get the itch to pitch again. Watching the Dodgers win the World Series only made him want to scratch that itch even more. In December, Morrow called Friedman and decided to give it another shot, signing a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp.

“I feel really healthy. So far, so good,” Morrow said. “I took the entire summer off. It was good for the mind, body and soul. I’m feeling really good so far.”

Though making a decision to mount a comeback took Morrow some time, the decision to sign with the Dodgers was an easy one for the right-hander. After all, Los Angeles is the place where he’s enjoyed most of his success.

Morrow, 36, had the best season of his 12-year MLB career with the Dodgers in 2017. The right-hander went 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 43 2/3 innings spanning 45 relief appearances. He struck out 50 batters and walked only nine that season. His 1.55 FIP was the second lowest on the club behind Kenley Jansen’s 1.31 mark.

But that success feels like a lifetime ago for Morrow. He signed a two-year, $21.5 million deal to become the Cubs’ closer in 2018. When he was on the mound for Chicago, Morrow was dominant, posting a 1.47 ERA in 35 appearances in '18. The problem? A back injury and many elbow injuries and setbacks have kept Morrow from pitching in a big league game since that season.

“It’s tough,” Morrow said of the rehab process. “[Taking last year off] was great for my body and my mind. Grinding through rehab when things aren’t working out is really rough. To go in every day and still feel terrible, it’s tough.”

Morrow is now four years older than he was the last time he put on a Dodgers uniform. The reality is that he won’t be the same pitcher who can reach 97-100 mph with the four-seam fastball he used more than 72 percent of the time during his prime. But after throwing his first bullpen session of the spring on Friday, Morrow thinks he still has the skills that made him an elite reliever in ‘17.

“I hope to have the same impact I did before,” Morrow said. “I mean, I would obviously get back to the form that I was in ‘17 and ‘18 before I got hurt. I feel like I definitely still have it in me, if my body is cooperating.”

While Morrow is still a bit away from being ready to pitch in a big league regular-season game, the Dodgers could have an open roster spot up for grabs this spring. With Tommy Kahnle rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Los Angeles will likely clear a spot on its 40-man roster by moving Kahnle to the 60-day injured list. That opens up opportunities for veterans such as Jimmy Nelson and Morrow. If Morrow can prove he’s healthy, he could force the Dodgers’ hand, or find his way to the big leagues with another team.

“We’re very familiar with him and what he can do in a big spot, the dependability,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s healthy. Right now, it was a great first day for him as far as the ‘pen and everything I hear from the training room and from Brandon himself. He feels good, and he’s excited to be back in a Dodgers uniform.”

Worth noting
• Catching prospect Keibert Ruiz, who has been dealing with visa issues, is still not in camp, according to Roberts. There’s still no timetable for Ruiz's arrival, as he will have to self-quarantine and go through COVID-19 intake testing once he works out the visa situation.

• Right-handers Joe Kelly and Mitch White are still battling arm soreness and have not started throwing. Roberts said both are going through an arm care program. There is still no timetable for a return for either of them.

• Left-hander Clayton Kershaw threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Saturday. Roberts said it was a 34-pitch session during which the southpaw threw all of his pitches.

“He’s got it pretty much down to a science,” Roberts said.