For whatever reason, despite added velocity and a new pitch, Bryan Morris struggled at the start of 2014.
He allowed only two earned runs in 11 innings in April, but had a 5.68 ERA in May, the product of walking 10 batters and allowing 15 hits in 122⁄3 innings. Opponents hit .326 against him with a .450 on-base percentage and a .543 slugging percentage for the month.
So, when the Pirates sent Morris to the Miami Marlins June 1 in exchange for a competitive balance draft pick and its corresponding bonus pool money, Morris looked at it as an opportunity.
“Obviously, I was struggling a little bit with some things with Pittsburgh,” Morris said Saturday at Marlins Park, where the Pirates were visiting for a weekend series. “I was looking for something to kind of turn the season around, and this could be it. So, hopefully, this is something that contributes to it and, hopefully, I continue to throw well.”
In 71⁄3 innings with the Marlins entering Monday night, the 27-year-old right-hander had kept opponents scoreless, striking out eight without walking a batter.
“Everybody seemed to be excited for me to be a part of the organization,” Morris said. “There weren’t any specifics that they wanted from me. They were excited for me to be here and eager to work with me.”
The Marlins are Morris’ third team. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in 2006, and he would eventually need Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. He was part of the Pirates’ return in the three-way trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox. Morris’ debut with the Pirates in 2012 was brief, but he appeared in 55 games for them last season.
His spring-training experience before this season had many ups and downs. As one of a slew of relievers without minor league options, every outing was a test on which the Pirates’ coaches and front office would judge him. He didn’t find out he officially made the team until after the final exhibition game in Philadelphia, when reporters asked him about it.
But in those tests, his pitches showed increased velocity. There also was a new sinker to go with his hard slider-cutter combination. That has carried over into the regular season: His fastball is averaging a career-high 95.2 mph, and he is throwing his two-seamer, which moves down and in to right-handed batters, 27.5 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs.com, after rarely if ever throwing it before.
That caught Miami’s attention.
“We weren’t looking to move him,” general manager Neal Huntington said at the time of the trade. “Miami expressed interest. The deal came together, and we made it.”
The No. 39 overall draft pick netted the Pirates $1,457,600 in bonus money, according to Baseball America, and University of San Diego outfielder Connor Joe.
Morris said he was surprised when he heard about the trade. He joined a team that already had former Pirates Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee, which he said made it easier at first, but the rest of the players did a good job welcoming him. Though surprising, he said it was nice to know that a team wanted his services enough to go get him.
“That makes it easier to accept changes,” he said.
Despite losing ace Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery, the Marlins entered Monday with a 35-33 record and tied for second in the National League East. McGehee and Giancarlo Stanton are hitting well, Jones is taking more walks than ever and younger players like Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich are contributing.
“It’s a good mixture between young guys and older guys,” Morris said. ‘There’s a lot of energy. Everybody’s playing free and easy, everybody’s relaxed. When you have that feeling, most of the time, you’re playing good baseball.”
•NOTE — Andrew McCutchen was named the National League player of the week Monday after hitting .483 with four home runs and a 1.034 slugging percentage the previous week. McCutchen has an 11-game hit streak entering the game Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.