New Place, Familiar Face for Morrow

PEORIA, Ariz. -- If he makes the San Diego Padres starting rotation, Brandon Morrow and Tyson Ross could not only be the first former Cal teammates to make the same staff, but the first two former Cal pitchers, period.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- San Diego Padres manager Bud Black admits that he’s only known new righty Brandon Morrow “less than two weeks,” but he’s already impressed by what he’s seen from the 30-year old.

“I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” says Black. “I like his delivery, I like his arm action, I like his stuff, and I like the things that are coming out of his mouth. First of all, I think he’s got a good head. We’re still getting to know him, but we’ve liked what we’ve seen.”

Of course, there’s someone on the roster who’s known Morrow for quite a bit longer: 2014 National League All-Star Tyson Ross.

Ross was a freshman at California – a Sunday starter for David Esquer and the Golden Bears – in 2006, when Morrow was the Friday-night ace, the 99-mph-throwing force that was destined to be drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Mariners.

In fact, if Morrow turns out to be the fifth starter for Black and the Padres, he and Ross will represent the first ever pair of former Cal pitchers – let alone two members of the same Cal pitching staff – will have ever pitched in the same starting rotation in the Major Leagues.

That would be a third first for Ross when it comes to his alma mater. On May 20, 2010, with the Oakland Athletics, he started against the Detroit Tigers, and former teammate Brennan Boesch -- the first time that two former Bears teammates had started and faced one another as big league batter and pitcher. On May 11, 2013, against the Tampa Bay Rays, Ross and John Baker -- now in camp across the Peoria Sports Complex with the Seattle Mariners – became the first all-Cal batter in Major League history.

“It’s been a long time – I think it was 2006, when we first played together,” Ross says. “It’s been cool. I was always following his career, while I was still in college, and it’s been exciting to follow in his footsteps, coming out of Cal and making it to the bigs. It’s going to be cool to be on the same team.”

The last time Morrow saw Ross, he was a gangly freshman who had yet to grow into his massive frame. Now, Ross is the big man on campus, as it were, a reigning National League All-Star.

“It’s been a long time, so it’s pretty cool,” Ross said. “It was good to see him when he was down in San Diego, getting physicals or something done during the offseason, when I was in there working out. We’ve kept in contact through text messages and stuff, over the years, so it’s good to have him in camp.”

What will it take for Morrow to win that fifth spot? He’s made just 16 starts over the past two seasons, due to myriad health issues, covering a forearm strain, oblique issues and, most recently, an injured tendon sheath in his right middle finger, which required a brace made of a synthetic baseball hide.

“I think the health component, I think he’s past that,” says Black. “The injury last year was the tendon sheath in his finger. That’s healed. I’m not minimizing any injury, but when you talk about an elbow or a shoulder – the two major components of throwing – I think, in his case, what kept him out last year was his finger. I think that’s completely behind him. That was a nagging thing, more than anything. With Brandon, I’ve mentioned before: His intent this offseason was to go to a team to be given an opportunity to start. I told him, on the phone, when we were talking with him, that we were going to give him that opportunity. He goes, ‘Great.’ He wants that responsibility, that the starting pitcher has every fifth night, to be the guy. He wants to take that on his shoulders.”

Just as Morrow did in his junior year at Cal, he will start. It’s in his DNA. He’s tried relieving before, and has had some success. In 2008, Morrow recorded 10 saves for Seattle, with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.144 WHIP, before being sent down to get stretched back into being a starter – the second time the Mariners had changed his pitching outlook in his time in the organization. The next year, in Toronto, Morrow he went 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.115 WHIP as a starter.

“Starting pitching is arguably the biggest responsibility of all 25 guys on any given night,” Black says. “If that guy pitches well, we’re probably going to win. If that fellow pitches poorly, we have a really good chance to lose. He wants that opportunity to start. Again, his innings the last two years are down. This guy has logged innings before, he’s convicted to start, he’s got a good arm, he’s got a pitching repertoire as a starting pitcher, so we’re going to give him that opportunity.”

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