On the Pharm: Adam Morgan testing the 'learning curve'

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On the Pharm: Adam Morgan testing the 'learning curve'

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — When players like Roy Halladay or John Lannan get injured, it does more than test the big-league club. It’s when veteran big leaguers like Halladay or Lannan get hurt that an organization’s minor league depth is put on display.

So far the Phillies have dipped into Triple A Lehigh Valley and dropped Jonathan Pettibone into the rotation. On Friday, Tyler Cloyd will make his season debut for the Phillies after going 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts for the IronPigs.

Next up could be 23-year-old lefty Adam Morgan, a pitching prospect that has quickly turned some heads in the organization.

After an All-American career at the University of Alabama, Morgan was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft and has been climbing ever since. In his first full season as a pro, Morgan posted an 8-11 record and 3.35 ERA for Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading. More impressively, Morgan had 169 strikeouts in 158 2/3 innings.

On the strength of that 2012 season, Morgan was tabbed as the Phillies' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America, earned an invitation to big-league camp in Clearwater this spring and began the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley where he was named International League pitcher of the week after a shutout three-hitter.

It was coming together very quickly for Morgan.

“He has a lot of talent. He’s here for a reason -- he’s here because he is talented and obviously he has a bright future ahead of him,” Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said. “But he has a lot to learn.”

Since then, Morgan has been undergoing a “learning curve,” according to Brundage. Every young ballplayer needs a bout of adversity to help in their development, and Morgan is finally taking a lump or two.

“There is a learning curve here about how to handle situations and how to deal with adversity and that’s a good thing,” Brundage said prior to the IronPigs’ game against the Louisville Bats at Coca-Cola Park on Wednesday. “It’s experience. A lot of these guys who have had a lot of success coming through, like at the University of Alabama and the minor league system, have not had to deal with a lot of adversity. Your stuff gets you so far and once you get here or the big leagues, they are trying to deal with adversity.”

Morgan followed his three-hitter with a two-hitter over five innings against Pawtucket. But after allowing three runs and 11 hits in 19 innings in his first three starts, Morgan has been belted around for 12 runs and 19 hits in 15 2/3 innings.

In his last outing, Morgan allowed four runs in four innings against Indianapolis, with a pair of them coming on a long home run off his fastball. So like any young pitcher who was burned on a particular pitch, Morgan stopped throwing it.

According to Brundage, Morgan’s fastball command is the biggest asset in his arsenal.

“What happens when a guy hits a good pitch?” Brundage said. “The other day [Morgan] gave up a two-run homer and [he had to figure out] how to react and where did it take him and what to do? It was a learning curve the other day when he didn’t want to throw his fastball after that. He was thinking, ‘I don’t want them to hit that.’ But it’s not going to be the last two-run homer he gives up.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Morgan has scuffled a bit. According to Brundage, it’s how the lefty responds to a rough outing that will determine how good he can be.

“Morgan is a young pitcher who doesn’t have as much experience as Jonathan (Pettibone) does,” Brundage said. “There is a lot to learn. It’s not a bad situation when he has to deal with some failure and deal with some adversity because it’s after that is what we want to see as an organization.”

So far Morgan understands the hard lessons he’s learned. He also said he picked up a lot just from watching the likes of Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels during spring training. The old pros could handle their bouts of failure and use them to come back stronger.

And compared to what Halladay, Lee and Hamels have endured - and what Halladay has in front of him - Morgan is way ahead of the curve.
 
“The immediate feedback from this level is that you pay for a pitch that ends up in a different spot from where you thought it would be,” Morgan said. “At [lower levels], I could get away with throwing a mistake. Here, I can’t. I am always working on something to better myself and be consistent.”

Morgan next takes the mound on Friday night in Durham, N.C. Though he still has to put in more work in Triple A, Morgan is still just a phone call away from the big leagues.

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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