MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians haven’t been able to rely on their rotation like they have over the past few years. But since the second half of the season got underway, the club has gotten some reassurance that it could quickly turn back into the starting powerhouse it once was.
The rotation has been plagued with injuries this season, leading to most of the struggles it had to face. And as inexperienced arms came in to fill the gaping holes, it took some time for the young hurlers to get adjusted. But as Eli Morgan demonstrated in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Twins at Target Field, there is a lot of potential left in Cleveland’s farm system.
“From the pitching department making the necessary adjustments, you can see a little determination in him tonight,” acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “I think that’s a big key. When you go from start to start, I think sometimes you can kind of stay on a roll. Then, when you have a hiccup, what are you gonna do next? And I thought it was positive what he came out and did.”
Morgan turned the page on his previous outing that led to a 17-0 Indians loss and tossed a sparkling six frames against Minnesota, giving up just three hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. And thanks to James Karinchak’s impressive escape after inheriting a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the eighth, Morgan was handed his second career win.
“Big thing with that Oakland game was fastball command wasn't where I wanted it,” Morgan said. “We talked with [catcher Wilson] Ramos today, making sure we established the outside corner. He did a fantastic job out there. He got me a few pitches and had a really good attack plan working out with my fastball and slider. I still walked two. That's something I'm gonna have to continue to work on. But I think after that second inning, the command really ticked up.”
The first two innings certainly weren’t easy. Morgan had to work to prove that he could bounce back after a rocky outing against the A’s, starting with a first-inning strikeout of Jorge Polanco in a 16-pitch at-bat. It tied the record for the second-longest at-bat by a Cleveland hurler in the pitch-tracking era (since 1988).
“That takes it out of you early,” Morgan said. “That could have affected that second inning a little bit with the command. But that was huge to get that guy. It's a tough AB. ... But it was definitely good to get him after that long battle.”
The second inning started with a single and consecutive walks to load the bases. But Morgan settled in like a seasoned veteran and struck out Miguel Sanó before inducing a 1-2-3 double play to avoid any damage. From there, Morgan cruised through the end of the sixth, giving up just one hit.
“After that inning, too, I thought he settled down and got into a pretty good rhythm,” Hale said. “The efficiency of his pitches over the next four innings were good. … Just a great effort. You talk about making an adjustment from start to start and I thought he did that.”
Morgan’s ERA may sit at 5.80, but three of his last four trips to the rubber have all been quality starts with a total of 20 strikeouts in 19 innings.
“Eli’s pitching really well,” Indians starter Cal Quantrill said. “His numbers I don’t think are doing justice to the level of competition he’s playing at.”
It’s not Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger like Indians fans got so used to over the past few seasons, but Cleveland’s rotation could be just as dominant as it was when those arms were on its roster. Morgan has shown improvements since he was first called up to make his debut in May, Triston McKenzie has become a completely different pitcher than the one he was to start the season and Quantrill has been dominant since getting settled into the rotation.
Add those to the trio of Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac and the Indians can once again feel comfortable in their rotation heading into 2022.
“I think we have five, six, seven quality MLB starters,” Quantrill said on Monday. “I think that we take a lot of pride in doing our job well. … I think there’s a lot to be proud of. Obviously, we will continue to try to make strides forward.”