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.

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.