MIAMI — Just before the All-Star break, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure met with struggling pitcher Adam Morgan and delivered news that no young major leaguer wants to hear.
Mackanin and McClure told Morgan that he was going back to Triple A.
The conversation included some tough love as the manager and pitching coach told the pitcher that what he was doing was not working and he was going to have to make some changes if he wanted to get back to the big leagues.
In short, Mackanin and McClure told Morgan he didn’t have the stuff to rely so much on a straight fastball. And he certainly didn’t have the stuff to pitch up in the strike zone. If he wanted to get back to the majors, he was going to have put a little wrinkle, a little movement, in his fastball and above all he was going to have to keep the ball down.
Morgan returned to the big leagues when injuries hit the starting rotation in mid-August and recently has shown that the conversation he had with his manager and pitching coach back in July did not fall on deaf ears.
The 26-year-old lefty made it three strong starts in his last four as he led the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the struggling Miami Marlins on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). Morgan pitched six walk-free innings and gave up just one run to notch his first big-league win since May 10. He had been 0-9 over his last 15 big-league games. That was the longest losing streak in the majors this season and longest by a Phillie since Kyle Abbott dropped 11 straight decisions in 1992.
“It feels good,” Morgan said after snapping his personal losing streak. “I wouldn’t say I lost confidence. It did get tough there for a while. But you can’t lose confidence, you can’t lose that belief in yourself. You do that and this game will kick you out real fast.”
For the second straight start, Morgan worked with veteran catcher/guidance counselor A.J. Ellis.
“It’s been the same game plan with A.J.,” Morgan said. “Keep it down. Keep it simple.”
Morgan scattered five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out five. He has given up just three runs over 12⅔ walk-free innings in his last two starts.
Morgan’s recent success started with that trip to the minors.
“McClure and I met with him in Colorado and we told him he had to add a two-seamer and he had to keep the ball down or he wasn’t going to be successful,” Mackanin said. “He’s shown signs of doing that. It’s good to see because he needed to make a change in his approach and pitch differently than he had in the past and he’s starting to do that. He can get better and better.”
Morgan went to Triple A with the right mindset. He committed himself to throwing a two-seamer — or sinker — and worked hard on his changeup. Both pitches were important in Tuesday night’s win.
Before adding the two-seamer, Morgan relied on a straight four-seam fastball. That’s OK when you throw 98 mph, but when you top out at 92, you need a little movement to help miss barrels.
“It was tough but you have to buy into it,” Morgan said of incorporating the two-seamer into his repertoire. “You can’t go into it half-hearted. I think that it’s one of those things where I needed a pitch that goes away from righties and into lefties and gets them to mishit it. Knowing that and telling myself that helped me stay focused and get back to the big leagues.
“I think it’s been paying dividends so far. It can get better and more consistent. But for now I’ll take it while I keep working on it.”
With Tuesday night’s victory, the Phillies have won two in a row for the first time since Aug. 13-14. At 62-76, they are one victory shy of last season’s win total.
The Marlins have lost 10 of their last 11.
“They’ve been scuffling and we’ve taken advantage of it,” Mackanin said.
The Phillies gave Morgan some early runs as Freddy Galvis and Tommy Joseph both knocked in a pair. Things got hairy in the eighth when Hector Neris had a rare off night and gave up a two-run home run to Ichiro Suzuki as the Marlins pulled to within a run.
The Marlins threatened again in the ninth, but Jeanmar Gomez was able to strike out Dee Gordon looking with two men on base to end the game and notch his 35th save.
No one was happier to see that final out than Adam Morgan.