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Morris v. Marquis: the battle for the last rotation spot

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  • Morris v. Marquis: the battle for the last rotation spot


    Morris, Marquis battling for playoff rotation
    By Joe Strauss

    CINCINNATI -- For the first time this season, the Cardinals' rotation presents a problem.

    Sometime in the next two weeks manager Tony La Russa will inform one of his five starters that he has been subtracted from the playoff rotation.

    "I think it's going to be tough," La Russa admitted during last week's series against the Chicago Cubs. "It's one of those really good problems to have. It means you have five. What that has meant for us to win 90-plus games. If we didn't have five, then we wouldn't have a decision. But if we didn't have five, we wouldn't have 90 (wins) right now.

    "The guy who doesn't go into the rotation is going to have a tough pill to swallow. All five guys are very competitive and very proud off their contributions. It's going to be tough to take."

    Neither La Russa nor pitching coach Dave Duncan has approached the fifth starter. However, a recent realignment of the rotation that goes into effect for tonight's opener of a series against the Cincinnati Reds suggests Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan are being pointed toward the first three playoff starts. Matt Morris is tentatively scheduled to start the final regular season game at Busch Stadium Oct. 2, putting him on turn to start Game 4.

    If carried out, the alignment would mean different duty for Jason Marquis, who recently recovered from a winless 12-game stretch to offer his best three consecutive starts in two years with the club.

    Hence, La Russa's pleasant problem, but still a problem.

    "You really don't know in a short series what's going to be the most important inning. The guy who goes out has to be mentally tough enough to know that he may be the guy who's pitching the most pivotal inning," La Russa said. "But if not, he'll definitely be taking one for the team."

    The Cardinals rotation leads the major leagues with 79 wins and the National League with 93 quality starts. All except Marquis (12-14) have won at least 14 games.

    Carpenter (21-4), found among the NL's top three in wins, ERA, strikeouts and innings, is favored to become the Cardinals' first Cy Young Award winner since 1970. Mulder (16- 7) has made six consecutive quality starts, stands tied for fifth in wins and ranks second in the league only to Carpenter in night ERA (1.90). Jeff Suppan (15-10) has lowered his overall ERA from 4.34 to 3.57 in his last eight starts. In that time he is 6-2 with a 1.59 ERA, best on the staff.

    In 12 starts since the All-Star break, Morris (14-9) three times has pitched at least six innings while allowing no more than three earned runs. He owns a 5.70 ERA in that period and on Thursday will try to snap the first stretch of four straight losses in his career as a starting pitcher.

    The second half has severely tested Morris and Marquis.

    Marquis recently emerged from a 13-start stretch in which his team won only one of his 13 starts and, like Morris, struggled with an absence of positive reinforcement.

    After exiting Independence Day with the NL's best record (10-1), Morris has since gone 4-8 and struggled to relocate his signature pitch, a hard-breaking curve. It is a better problem than last season, when he dealt with shoulder discomfort, but it has tested Morris' confidence as well as his patience.

    "The only thing I want to pay attention to is his confidence," Duncan said. "Knowing Matt Morris, I don't think he's going to lose confidence and not feel like he can go out and compete against anybody."

    "It's something he should have. It's totally different from his cutter and his fastball," La Russa said. "But to me, there's no physical reason why his curveball can't be there. He'll work on it and he'll get it better.'

    Marquis recently righted himself with a greater willingness to pound his sinking fastball at hitters rather trying to finesse slivers of the plate. Before dropping his last start, Marquis won three consecutive starts Aug. 27 to Sept. 9. He allowed two earned runs in 26 innings, a stretch that included consecutive complete games. Unlike Marquis, Morris is searching for a pitch rather than an approach.

    The curveball betrayed Morris in his last two losses to the Chicago Cubs. First baseman Derrek Lee drove one for a home run at Busch Stadium and left fielder Matt Murton turned one into a key single Friday at Wrigley Field.

    Morris describes the pitch as "roll-y" right now. At its most effective, Morris' curveball is almost impossible for a hitter to recognize because it leaves his hand on a plane consistent with his fastball. For several weeks the pitch has contained a "loop," or an upward tilt, because of a quick-opening front shoulder.

    "It's something I've been working on and I haven't been able to get right," Morris said Sunday. "It's a little frustrating because you see progress and then it doesn't happen when you want it to in the game."

    Morris owns a 2.03 ERA in six Division Series appearances. He has not won a National League Championship Series start, but Duncan remembers when he pitched into the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 in 2002.

    Friday afternoon, Morris acknowledged the recent strong performances from Marquis and Suppan and his need "to kick into gear."

    Marquis was equally honest. "If I stood here and said I wouldn't be bothered by not being in the postseason rotation, I'd be lying," he said. "I'm a very competitive person. With the way I've thrown the ball the last three or four weeks, the changes that I've been working on and the success I've had, you'd have to be disappointed. I'm a guy who thinks he can help the team in that (starting) role."

    The manager describes his plans as drawn in sand, not etched in stone. Last September's nerve disorder that abruptly sidelined Carpenter for the postseason reminds La Russa that there is no benefit to an early announcement.

    Yet La Russa and Duncan's trust in Morris is well established. Despite Morris' difficult '04, they had the former 22-game winner start Game 2 of last October's World Series on short rest - something Morris had never done before. La Russa, who has seen every one of Morris' major-league starts, concedes several instances this season when Morris has received benefit of the doubt.

    "The reason I stay with him is that he's earned it over time. He's shown the ability to tough it out and make pitches," La Russa said. "He's had a tough stretch. But I went with him other times because I know what he can be." [/b][/quote]

    "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
    This will be a tough call for Tony and Duncan. I think that if Morris gets bumped he most certainly will be gone next year and maybe will be anyway.


    • #3
      Hopefully this won't be an issue until the LCS.


      • #4
        I don't think you can start Marquis.


        • #5
          This doesn't matter as long as Tony has the fourth guy on a short string...

          Well, it does if one of the front three implode, and Tony has to bring the odd man out in from the bullpen prior to that...

          Otherwise, he's just pitching one game with two waiting to pitch if necessary...
          " Look, forget the myths the media's created about the White House--the truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand."


          • #6
            Add Suppan to the list.

            Anthony Reyes?
            Dude. Can. Fly.


            • #7
              QUOTE(_STLfan_in_DFW @ Sep 20 2005, 07:56 PM) Quoted post

              This doesn't matter as long as Tony has the fourth guy on a short string...

              Well, it does if one of the front three implode, and Tony has to bring the odd man out in from the bullpen prior to that...

              Otherwise, he's just pitching one game with two waiting to pitch if necessary...

              I think thats the way it will go. I just can't see Marquis getting a start considering last postseason.