'A good step': Morgan impresses despite loss

June 23rd, 2021

CHICAGO -- Through 3 1/3 innings in Cleveland’s 7-1 loss to Chicago on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, was more than just unhittable. He was perfect.

With a strikeout of Cubs left fielder Joc Pederson to lead off the bottom of the fourth, Morgan had sent down 10 straight Chicago batters to begin the game. The 25-year-old had already logged five strikeouts through the first three innings, with 24 of his 32 pitches going for strikes.

His changeup was especially dangerous, as the Cubs swung and missed on four of the five he threw in the first three frames. The pitch helped him keep Chicago’s batters -- especially the team’s left-handed hitters -- off-balance, and both Pederson’s at-bat to lead off the game and Cubs second baseman Sergio Alcántara’s at-bat in the third ended with them flailing at changeups.

“You could give 20 pitchers the same grip, but they're not going to be able to throw it like that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Morgan’s changeup. “... It's just a really good pitch.”

Morgan was still one out away from matching his career-high in innings pitched when he got Pederson swinging at a changeup in the fourth. But with a dominant beginning of the game under his belt, he’d put himself in a position to far surpass his 3 2/3 innings from his previous start.

Then Chicago first baseman Kris Bryant stepped into the box. On a 1-1 count, Morgan left a four-seamer over the heart of the plate -- really his only bad miss up to that point in the game -- and Bryant smoked it over the wall in left for a solo shot that put Cleveland behind for good in the loss.

The wheels eventually came off for Morgan in the bottom of the sixth. He gave up a double to Alcántara that hit off the base of the ivy, and pinch-hitter Rafael Ortega singled to right to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Pederson then came to the plate to start off his third at-bat of the night.

Going through the order for a third time brings issues for plenty of young pitchers, and Morgan was no different. On the first pitch he saw, Pederson lined a double to left-center, driving in two and ending Morgan’s night after five-plus innings.

“You really can't take pitches off here,” Morgan said. “I was cruising through five, and in the blink of an eye, I'm out of the game with three more runs on the board. So, that's something I'll have to continue to get better at, making sure that I have a game plan for each inning, for each batter and finding a way to be my sharpest from pitch [No.] 1.”

“I thought it was a good step,” Francona said. “Kid's got three starts in the Major Leagues. One was in a hurricane, the other one he got a ball off his arm. So I thought tonight -- again, I'm sure he didn't want to give up the runs when he did, but up to that point, he was terrific.”

The Indians could only muster a single run in the game, coming on a bases-loaded chopper for a fielder’s choice by Amed Rosario that made it a 5-1 ballgame in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, though, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and third baseman Patrick Wisdom cranked back-to-back homers that iced the game and dropped Morgan to 0-2 in his young big league career.

However, the first five frames for Morgan provided an idea of what he is capable of in the Majors. Besides Bryant’s home run, Morgan didn’t allow another baserunner through five while striking out nine, and he didn’t give a single free pass.

The ending didn’t go exactly as he would’ve liked, but with Aaron Civale becoming the third Indians starter to be lost to injury on Monday, Morgan’s performance should provide hope that Cleveland might at least have a shot at weathering that storm.

“We are low on starting [pitchers] right now,” Morgan said. “There's a lot of innings that we need to be eating so that we're not taxing our bullpen too much. That certainly creates pressure, but that's just part of it. That's something we as starters have to deal with, we're aware of. When we come up with a good game plan, we can work deeper into games.”