None Better Than KSU's Morris

Scout the nation for a better pitcher than Kansas State's A.J. Morris ... and you're not going to find one. That's factual ... not arguable. Morris heads to the mound Friday against Texas Tech with a perfect 11-0 record.

A.J. Morris - "Anthony Joseph ... my mom calls me that at times." - grew up in Humble, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

As a kid growing up, it was natural that he would cheer the heroics of Astro hurlers Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. As Morris says, "Both were Texas boys and two of the greatest to ever play the game. Sure, I often said, 'I want to be like them some day.' "

But here's the deal. Not even in their finest moment did the two Texas flame-throwers have a season like this 2009 spring of Mr. Morris. Heck, it's a year that perhaps only Kansas City's Zack Greinke can relate to!

Heading into a scheduled 6:30 p.m. start on Friday at KSU's Tointon Family Stadium against Texas Tech, Morris is 11-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Not only do those numbers lead the Big 12 Conference for the second-place Wildcats, but the 11 wins, and miniscule ERA, also lead the nation.

"To a certain degree, you can't explain something like this," said the right-hander. "I always knew I had it in myself, it was just a matter of getting it out. But my record is a reflection of our team. I'm just lucky to be a part of it."

But Team K-State is lucky to have Morris toe the rubber once every week. Only fittingly, Morris' perfect season ... well, nearly perfect ... started at Houston where he went six innings of six-hit baseball against the Cougars. He allowed two runs, neither earned, walked two and fanned eight in a 16-2 K-State win.

The rest of the season? Ponder these numbers:
* Morris has 12 starts. His only no-decision came against Missouri when he worked eight innings of two-run, six-hit baseball with no walks and six Ks. The bullpen was responsible for the 4-3 loss in the ninth.
* Morris has three complete games and has pitched through the sixth inning 11 times.
* With Morris on the mound, K-State has won games by a combined score of 99-28, or 8-2. In Big 12 play, Morris/KSU has given up, 1, 1, 3, 4, 3, 2 and 3 runs.
* Morris has allowed just 19 runs, 12 earned, in his 83 2/3 inning pitched. He has averaged 6.5 strikeouts and 1.7 walks per game. Morris said the turning point came on March 10 when he went 8 1/3 innings in a 4-0 victory at nationally ranked Arizona State that lowered his personal ERA to 0.68.

"There was a big crowd against a great team, but the way our team played set the tone for the rest of the year," Morris said. "It was proof that this team was ready to take the next step."

Today, Morris says of his confidence level, "It's a 10. I have all the confidence in myself, but I have got to stay level headed and not get too high or too down."

And that's the big difference from Morris, the 4-4 pitcher with a 6.04 ERA in 2008, to the chucker of today.

"It wasn't so much a lack of confidence last year, but a lack of focus. Or, the focus wasn't on the right things," Morris said. "If things went wrong ... and error or a bad call, I would take it to the next batter. I would focus on the past, and not the next hitter."

Morris would go on to say that last year was "unacceptable .. it ate me up."

Pounded in a Big 12 Tournament championship game by Texas last spring, Morris began his turn-around with the Moses Lake Pirates (Washington) in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball league during the summer.

The 6-foot-2 Morris beefed up 15 pounds to 200, and while committed to an 89- to 93-mile-per-hour fastball, it's an 80- to 83-mile-per-hour slider that is his "out" pitch.

Now the bad news ... at least for K-State. An ultra-strong candidate for first-team all-America honors, Morris has the scouts drooling over this pitcher that, basically, no one wanted out of high school.

He was recruited by TCU and Sam Houston State, but not by Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas or his personal favorite team in Texas A&M.

Oh, by the way, this year Morris pitched a 7-0 win over Baylor, a 6-4 victory over A&M, and a 10-0 whipping of the Longhorns heading into the Friday start against the Red Raiders.

"You always want to perform well in your home state," Morris admitted," but to do something special, it takes beating more than the Texas schools."

As for his future, Morris says, "I try not to think about the draft. If the team is taking care of its goals, the team will take care of yours."

But he says, "Sure, I've talked to scouts, but I don't press the issue of my status and where I might go. It's just not important ... not at this point."


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