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On Thursday night the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox open a four-game series out west as star pitcher Felix Hernandez goes for the M’s. Opposing him will be a pitcher who has effectively come out of nowhere to make starts for the injured Sox rotation, 26-year old Franklin Morales.
Boston acquired Morales from Colorado in the 2011 season after being seen as a notable prospect in the Rockies system but failing to prove his worth at the big league level in just over four seasons. Now, the hard throwing southpaw has started two games for Boston after not making a start since 2009 with his former club. And in those two starts, Morales has been impressive to say the least.
Typically the adjustment period of a transition from the bullpen to the rotation takes sometime, seen up close with the struggles of Daniel Bard. However, with prior starting experience, Morales was given the opportunity to slide into making two spot starts quite nicely and will now be at the least in the back of the minds of the team when it comes to finding quality starting pitching.
In his first start, Morales pitched 5.0 innings, allowing just two earned runs on four hits against the Chicago Cubs in a 7-4 Sox victory. His second start came recently in another win versus the Atlanta Braves, as he went 6.0 innings and again held the opposition to just two earned runs. And perhaps where Morales is getting the most attention is his power arm, which has struck out 17 batters over the two starts, nearly averaging two K’s per inning.
Morales has pitched more innings in four appearances during this month of June than he did in the two months prior to start the season. He transitioned in Bobby Valentine’s bullpen from being a lefty specialist to a one inning reliever to a long reliever and now to a starting pitcher. He has enjoyed a great deal of success no matter the ever changing role this year though, currently holding career bests with a 1.18 WHIP and a 3.12 ERA.
The question to ask is whether or not Morales can keep up this type of effectiveness over the course of the season, and whether or not he becomes the first reliable pitcher to make a spot start when all five regulars are healthy. That role was supposed to go to the likes of Aaron Cook, who has also made just two starts this season for the team.
For now it’s probably too soon to think that Morales can become a reliable starter every fifth day, but it’s certainly enjoyable to watch his success. Facing the Mariners on Thursday won’t tell us much more about his ability given Seattle has a .238 team batting average, the fifth worst in all of baseball. However, Morales certainly does add some assurance to the question of depth in the pitching staff.
When Josh Beckett (shoulder fatigue) and Clay Buchholz (esophagitis) return from their respective ailments, the Sox rotation will be filled with starting options, also including Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Felix Doubront, and Cook. Given that Beckett, Lester and Buchholz round out the natural top three no matter their performaces, the other two spots are likely going to belong to Matsuzaka and Doubront.
From there, Morales will return to the bullpen and Cook’s roster status will depend on his performance to that point. With the way the Sox have been battered with injuries in 2012 and even in past years with the rotation, it’s great to know that Morales provides a potential fill-in arm who can keep the team in games. He’s a better starting option than Cook, and most Sox fans might prefer to see him every fifth day instead of Dice-K.
So if there is another major injury that haunts the Sox staff, it might not be the end of the world. Morales has the type of stuff that most dominant left-handed pitchers in the game are gifted with, and there’s no doubt he has the potential to grow into a reliable starter.
The problem is that in 2012, that opportunity isn’t presenting itself because of the big names around him, but this is absolutely a pitcher to watch out for in the years to come.