Cubs newcomer Morrow set to close in revamped bullpen
By Mike Tulumello
MESA, Ariz. — Brandon Morrow has pitched in just about every role during his 11 seasons in the majors.
Except as a full-time closer for a championship contender.
That will change this year, as Morrow is expected to fill the spot for the Chicago Cubs. He is the most prominent addition to a revamped bullpen that saw the departures of Wade Davis, last year’s closer, and Hector Rondon, who held the role in 2015 and part of the World Series-winning season of 2016.
Another key addition is side-arming Steve Cishek, who signed a two-year deal after a season in which he had a 2.01 ERA in 49 appearances for Seattle and Tampa Bay. He allowed a tiny .148 opposing batting average by right-handed batters.
They join holdovers Carl Edwards Jr. (2.98 ERA in 73 appearances), Pedro Strop (5-4, 2.83 ERA) and Brian Duensing, who signed a two-year deal after his solid 2017 (2.74 ERA in 68 appearances). They also are hoping for improvement from Justin Wilson (4-4, 3.41 with Detroit and the Cubs).
In his new role, Morrow can call on the experience he has gained in a career that includes 113 big league starts, mostly with Toronto from 2009-13.
He could be overwhelming at times, such as his one-hitter vs. Tampa in 2010, when he struck out 17.
“I’ve never seen anything so dominant in my life,” says Joe Maddon, then the Rays’ manager and now Morrow’s manager with the Cubs.
Morrow has only 18 career saves.
In 2017, the right-hander had a big year for the pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers, going 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 45 games. He struck out 50 and walked just nine in 43 2-3 innings.
In the postseason, he appeared 14 times. Morrow pitched in all seven World Series games in the loss to Houston, with an 8.44 ERA.
“He pitched a lot of innings last year,” Maddon says. “It’s going to be wise to be patient regarding not putting him out there too many times in a row, make sure he gets rest, watch pitch count, watch number of innings, during spring training not pushing him too hard.”
He pitched four scoreless innings against the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. And that “helped open my eyes” to the possibility of signing with them.
“I hadn’t played a lot of Wrigley. It was cool to get out there in those situations,” he said.
Over the years, “I’ve pitched in pretty much every role there is. Over the years, a lot of experience to pull from.”
Morrow, 33, closed a bit for Seattle as a youngster, but, “I wasn’t necessarily prepared for that as far as command and ability to go out on a daily basis and really compete. My stuff was there, and I was getting by on that.”
“I consider myself a much better pitcher now. All the experience has prepared me well,” he said.
“Obviously, the ninth inning is really important mentally for the team. Blown saves are tough mentally. If you lose a game in the third, it’s not the same as losing a game in the ninth. Having somebody who can be consistent in that role is important,” he said.
Morrow’s presence will mean Edwards, who has closer’s stuff (94 strikeouts in 66 innings) will have to wait for his chance for the ninth-inning role.
“As of now, I just want to do what I did last year,” Edwards said.
“We have a lot of veteran guys. Anybody on this team can close a game. Morrow is a great guy. I am looking forward to picking his brain. I’ll just wait for my turn. No rush,” he said.
Maddon says he likes his bullpen because, “The lefties can get out right-handed hitters and the righties can get out left-handed hitters. Cishek also provides maybe this one weapon that I don’t have that we’ve had: a righty that can just dominate righties.”
Morrow and Cishek join a bullpen with a fun-loving reputation. The evidence: the dance routines last season whenever the Cubs did something big.
Says Cishek, “Bullpens usually have character to them. As far as the dancing. I might have to get some lessons by opening day.”
Says Morrow, “I keep getting asked about my dancing. We’ll see. I might be the awkward one in the corner.”