BOSTON Watching Franklin Morales walk the second batter of the game, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thought there might be something wrong. Entering the game, Morales had given up just eight walks, two intentional, in 28 23 innings this season, compared to 29 strikeouts. In his five-inning start on June 17 his first start since April 8, 2009 Morales didnt allow a walk while striking out a career-high nine.
On Saturday night, Morales allowed a single to Michael Bourn to open the game, walked Martin Prado, and, after a double steal, gave up an RBI single to Brian McCann.
But the left-hander quickly adjusted. He struck out Dan Uggla, looking at an 82-mph changeup, and Freddie Freeman, swinging at an 84-mph changeup, before getting Chipper Jones to line out to Mike Aviles at shortstop to end the inning.
After that Morales faced the minimum number of batters over the next three innings. He gave up a single to Bourn in the third, but the Braves lead-off hitter was erased when Prado grounded into a double play.
Morales went six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 62 strikes, for an impressive 72 percent strike rate. He earned the win, improving to 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA, as the Sox beat the Braves 8-4.
Morales comes out throwing strikes, Valentine said. The first inning when he walked Prado, I thought there was something drastically wrong when you see him walk a batter. Holy cow, is he alright? But actually he turned out to be fine in the first inning. Got us six innings this time instead of five. Throwing strikes aggressively and not afraid to use that changeup now. He mixed that in a lot more tonight. Changed the speed on his breaking ball a little. Hes making good adjustments.
Asked if Morales has given more than what might have been expected, Valentine replied:
Its hard to make expectations. But for him to maintain the velocity now, twice. Into the 80 pitches last time, 86 this time is very impressive and thats more than I expected.
In his two starts combined, Morales has gone 11 innings, giving up four runs (3.27 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and one walk. His eight- and nine-strikeout performances in the two starts are the highest strikeout totals of his career. Since 1985, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strikeout out at least eight batters in their first two starts of a season were Roger Clemens in 1988, and Pedro Martinez (1998 2000).
"I feel real confident in myself and I think it's good for me to be starting, Morales said.
"I feel very good.
Morales last two outings, his first starts in more than three years, were out of necessity. With Josh Beckett on the disabled list, Morales was pressed into service. Although Beckett is eligible to be activated on June 27, Valentine left little doubt to his thoughts on Morales getting another start.
Yes, most assuredly, Valentine said.