As the minor league season draws to a close, it’s fun to look back and reflect on the progress and improvement that players have made throughout the past few months. Unfortunately, some of the most progressive players find themselves inhabited by things such as pitch counts, making it upsetting to see a guy throwing his best stuff of the season being removed from innings in which he previously would have been allowed to stay in.
Such was the case on August 15, when right-hander Luis Morel was pulled from the game in the ninth inning against the South Bend Silver Hawks. Having come into to pitch in the fourth inning, Morel tossed 5.2 innings without allowing a single run.
He left the game with a final line of 5.2 IP, two hits, no runs, two walks and six strikeouts. Morel earned the win in the game, which had the Captains winning with a score of 1-0 off a home run from Dorssys Paulino in the first inning. Morel replaced Ryan Merritt in the game, who went three innings and gave up two hits but also allowed no runs, while striking out two batters.
Pitching coach Steve Karsay said Morel is on a strict 90-count pitch limit, which is why he was taken out of the game with one out left in the ninth after throwing 87 pitches.
Morel was replaced by Jack Wagoner, who struck out the final batter to end the game.
Karsay and Manager Scooter Tucker extolled Morel’s outing as extremely impressive.
“Morel was outstanding,” Tucker said after the game. “[The game] wasn’t easy. We had to make some pitches, they had some guys on second base and in scoring position…They had men on third with one out.”
Morel earned the win, and is now 5-3 on the season with a 5.09 ERA. He has three saves this season and 78 strikeouts.
In his last ten games, Morel posts a 4.31 ERA. He earned a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, on July 21, August 5, and his outing on the 15th. He has a 3-3 record since July 7, including losses on July 26, July 31, and August 20. On August 20, Morel struggled on the mound against the Lansing Lugnuts, throwing 1.2 innings and allowing six runs, four of them earned, on four hits, giving Morel a 21.60 ERA for the night. He issued three walks and didn’t strike out any batters.
Morel was signed as a non-drafted free agent on February 17, 2010. The twenty-year old hails from Nagua in the Dominican Republic. He throws a fastball, curveball, and change-up.
In past seasons, Morel pitched for the Dominican Summer League Indians, the Arizona League Indians, and Mahoning Valley. He had a 1-2, 4.02 record in 2010, 0-1 3.60 in 2011, and 3-7, 4.48 last season.
Morel has not been the only pitcher to really come into his own as of late with the Captains as the season progresses. Pitchers have flown through Lake County lately, with Josh Martin, Louis Head, Benny Suarez and Merritt having moved up to Carolina, and this year’s fourth-round draft pick lefty Kyle Crockett skipping Carolina and moving right to Akron earlier this month.
Karsay mentioned that pitchers’ improvement at this point in the season comes with learning how to pitch in specific situations and how to use their pitches most effectively.
“They’re pitching sequences; they’re learning how to pitch,” Karsay said.
The additions of strong arms in the bullpen has continued to help the Lake County pitching staff in this last month of the season. Newer addition of Grant Sides has helped with relief for the Captains, with Sides going 2-0 with a 1.25 ERA and five saves since July 6. Wagoner has remained steady throughout the season, with a 4-5 record and 4.94 ERA. He has two saves.
Luis Lugo recently joined the staff from Mahoning Valley, and had an impressive first outing that had him pitching five innings, only giving up two hits and allowing no runs. He walked one batter and struck out five on August 20.
As the season continues, the Captains find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. It will be continued strong performances from both starting and relieving pitchers, and guys like Morel will need to continue to play to their strengths in order to keep the team in the race into September.
With Morel continuing to pitch inside his pitch limit and capitalizing on his opportunities, he can only continue to improve and help the team move through the end of the season.
“Morel’s done a nice job piggy-backing all year long,” Karsay said of the pitcher. “He’s been there for three innings at a time, four innings, we’ve kind of bounced him around from piggy-back to piggy-back and he’s always been ready to pitch and to play. He’s done a fabulous job as well. He’s getting better and growing as a pitcher as the season goes along.”
Photo: Lake County Captains