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Backing Morris may be gamble for TLR

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  • Backing Morris may be gamble for TLR

    Backing Morris may be gamble for La Russa
    By Bernie Miklasz
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    Fans and media see Matt Morris struggling with a 4-6 record and a 5.51 earned-run average in 11 starts since the All-Star break and wonder how manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan can still reserve a prime spot for him in the postseason rotation.

    La Russa and Duncan look at Morris and see progress, and reasons to believe. They remember all of the big games he's pitched for them in past seasons. Morris is not a question mark to La Russa and Duncan; he's an answer. And they're steadfast in their support of Matty Mo.

    So on this 12th day of September, Morris is still in line to make the third start of the playoffs, following Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder.

    Unless that changes, it means Jeff Suppan or Jason Marquis will get squeezed out of the four-man postseason rotation.

    Outsiders see Suppan's 2.18 ERA in his last eight starts, pleasantly recall his postseason sturdiness of 2004 and wonder how Suppan could possibly be the extra man out in October.

    Outsiders see the dramatic turnabout by Marquis - nicked for only two earned runs in his last 26 innings - and wonder if he deserves to be moved ahead of a fading Morris.

    But after Morris gave up four earned runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings to absorb Sunday's 7-2 loss to Pedro Martinez and the Mets, La Russa and Duncan remained firm. They're committed to Morris for the postseason despite the .318 batting average against him in the second half, compared to the .246 BA against him when he went 10-1 in the first half, with a 3.10 ERA.

    This discussion may turn irrelevant, because Morris has at least three regular-season starts remaining. If he pitches well, then everyone calms down. Otherwise, the doubts about his postseason readiness will only fester.

    La Russa points to Marquis as a reason to stay the course with Morris, reminding us that Marquis ended a brutal slump by pitching brilliantly in his last three starts.

    "Over a longer period, fans were freaking out over Marquis," La Russa said. "We stayed with it. Are they happy with the way Marquis is pitching now? The winning result wasn't there, but Morris did a lot of good things today. We were impressed. It just didn't pay off in a win. But our offense got shut down by Pedro. If we could have gotten three or four runs early for Matt ..."

    With Duncan urging Morris to alter his approach, Morris reverted to more frequent use of his fastball. He kept the Mets off the board for the first four innings and allowed one run through five. So La Russa's positive critique has merit. But the performance deteriorated, as Morris gave up six extra-base hits in his final 2 1/3 innings.

    "He pitched better," Duncan said. "He had a couple of balls hit down the line, a couple of bloops that fell in. But he pitched the way he has to pitch to be effective. He's not a breaking ball, offspeed pitcher. In his last start (against the Cubs), he threw only 40 fastballs. And that's not his game. He can't throw all fastballs, but there has to be a good mix. He made progress."

    What if Morris doesn't continue to make progress as defined by the Cardinals? I asked Duncan if there's any thought to yanking Morris from the postseason rotation.

    "Nope," he said. "Not right now."

    That puts La Russa and Duncan in a potentially precarious position.

    Let's say they stick with Morris. Let's say the Cardinals are tied 1-1 after two games in the NL Division series. Let's say Morris gets the start in Game 3 of the NLDS, pitches poorly and loses - putting the Cardinals in a hole. They could escape from it, of course. But suppose they don't? La Russa and Duncan would get second-guessed all offseason for using Morris in Game 3.

    That's one hypothetical situation. Here's another: Morris makes a strong comeback, validates the support and clinches the NLDS for the Cardinals with an impressive Game 3 performance.

    It's getting interesting for Matty Mo.

    Which way will he go?

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    Shoot, we'll fix that.
    RIP Chris Jones 1971-2009
    You'll never be forgotten.


    • #3 thing is certain. This will be Matty's last year wearing the BOTB. No way we give him 7+M/year...he's not worth it.