PHOENIX — Brandon Morrow is finally healthy again after a pair of injury-plagued seasons, and is looking to make an impact in the Dodgers bullpen.
Signed to a minor-league contract in January as a non-roster invitee to big league camp, Morrow has impressed so far this spring.
“I feel great this year. I feel like I have the life back on my fastball,” Morrow said. “I got back last August, and my average fastball was around my career norm. But I just didn’t feel like I had that extra gear, that I feel like I do this year.”
Morrow spent the last two seasons with the Padres. He made five starts before getting shut down with shoulder inflammation, then later had surgery to repair an impingement in his shoulder, which ended his season. While rehabbing between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he lost 15 pounds thanks to valley fever.
After some time in extended spring training and a stint in the minors, Morrow switched from starting to relief, a role he had in most of his first three big league seasons with the Mariners, who drafted him fifth overall in the first round of the 2006 draft, two selections ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
Called up to the Padres in August, Morrow had a 1.69 ERA in 18 games down the stretch, though with just eight strikeouts. He averaged 96.21 mph on his four-seam fastball per Brooks Baseball, more in line with his 2007-2009 numbers with Seattle (96.11 mph), when he pitched in relief in 116 of his 131 appearances.
From 2010-2015, when Morrow started 98 of his 105 games with the Blue Jays and Padres, he averaged 94.30 mph on his four-seam fastball.
Though it’s not just his fastball that has been effective this spring.
“The stuff really plays. I like the fastball. He can elevate it, and spot it down in the zone. He's got a good, plus slider. I like the velocity,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He's done some good things.”
Morrow this spring has 11 strikeouts and just one walk in 71⁄3 innings. He has allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits for a 4.91 ERA, but no balls have left the park.
“I moved back to my normal side of the rubber, the third base side. It gives my slider a little more plate to work with,” Morrow said. “That’s been an adjustment, but it has helped getting swings and misses on my slider.”
There is familiarity with Morrow within the organization. Roberts was the bench coach with the Padres in 2015, Morrow’s first year in San Diego, and Dodgers front office executive Alex Anthopoulos traded for the right-hander before the 2010 season as general manager in Toronto.
“It always helps to know people in a new organization,” Morrow said.
If he makes the Dodgers roster, Morrow will make $1.25 million in 2017, and can also earn up to $1 million more in performance bonuses — $250,000 for each of 40, 50, 60 and 65 games pitched.
As a major league free agent this offseason who signed a minor league contract, Morrow would get a $100,000 retention bonus if not added to the major league roster. But making the major league bullpen is looking like a growing possibility.
"In a small, one- to two-inning sample, I think he really fits our club,” Roberts said. “We'll see.”
“I think I’ve been throwing the ball really well. I’m showing that I’m healthy, and that I can be a weapon in a one-inning situation,” Morrow said. “That’s what I came here to do.”