Morales may be ace in the hole for Sox

Morales may be ace in the hole for Sox
September 14, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Franklin Morales closes out the ninth inning of a 5-1 win over the Yankees.

(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON -- The Red Sox have become accustomed to tidy 1-2-3 ninth innings this season thanks to closer Koji Uehara's dominance. In Saturday's 5-1 win over the Yankees, it was lefty reliever Franklin Morales who turned in a clean final frame.

Facing the meat of New York's order -- albeit an order depleted by injury -- Morales got Robinson Cano to ground out, he induced a groundout by Alex Rodriguez, and he finished off the game by forcing Vernon Wells to pop out.

Since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 10, Morales has thrown 8.1 innings, allowing just one run and four hits. He's walked three and struck out seven in that span, and his velocity and movement on his pitches seem to indicate he's at something close to full strength.

His addition to the bullpen and his ability to attack both right-handed and left-handed hitters with swing-and-miss stuff could be a boon for the Red Sox come October.

"I think his last seven or eight times out, we're seeing consistent velocity with what he's pitched with the last couple of years," manager John Farrell said after Saturday's win. "He's had a hit-and-miss year this year from a health standpoint. That's behind him. To see the power that he's throwing with, that's very encouraging. He adds another dimension to our bullpen. Those innings where we need a strikeout, he's got that capability. If it's a little bit of a dirty inning where somebody's gotta come in and pick up a starter, he can be a huge boost to us going forward."



Morales' fastball hovered in the mid-90s against the Yankees, and he believes that since he has thrown only 20.2 innings this season, he will have plenty left in the tank for a playoff run. 



"I feel great," he said, his left shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice after Saturday's game. "Hopefully I don't come back to another injury, you know. But I don't throw too many innings yet, and I'm still fresh. I know the team needs somebody that's fresh. Right now I feel healthy, and I'm going to do the best that I can."



Having resolved shoulder problems and then a pectoral injury that limited him for much of the season, Morales gives the Red Sox another veteran left-hander out of the bullpen, along with Craig Breslow, who can be versatile in his usage. He has the stuff to overpower one hitter, or he could eat a full inning as he did Saturday. He also has some experience as a starter, and the Red Sox tried to have him ready for that role earlier in the year.

That has since changed, and his value is as a bullpen arm, where he could see action in high-leverage situations in the later innings.



"The increase in stuff," Farrell said, "clearly has put him in the position where he is now."