Morimando to Make MLB Debut as Tribe Goes for 15 in Toronto

Terry Francona pulled out all of the stops in Friday’s 19-inning marathon against the Toronto Blue Jays, which included using the Indians’ Saturday starter, Trevor Bauer, for five innings of relief in order to claim Cleveland’s 14th straight victory. As every win counts, the move paid off as the Indians won their 49th game of the season, but it left a notable void for the game three pitching probable.

While fans pondered all of the more obvious names on the Columbus Clippers roster, one thing became abundantly clear – the answer was not in Triple-A. Mike Clevinger and Will Roberts had pitched the previous two days and Ross Detwiler, in line for a start Saturday, had been placed on the temporary inactive list. T.J. House, who has Major League starting experience, hasn’t made a start since June 8, working his last seven appearances in relief. Cody Anderson and Ryan Merritt both reside on the disabled list and Adam Plutko, who has made three impressive starts for the Clippers, would be on short rest, which is no way to make a Major League debut.

The eyes then turned to Akron, where one option made some sense – 23-year-old left-hander Shawn Morimando, whose fifth day would be Saturday. Even better, the southpaw has pitched well throughout the season with the exception of two early June starts and he was already on the Indians’ 40-man roster, but the organization has made it common practice to not promote from that deep into the farm system if it does not have to (Jose Ramirez‘s September call-up in 2013 beyond one of the few recent examples).

Ultimately, Morimando got the call up on Saturday and he will have an opportunity to help the Tribe as Zach McAllister makes the start against the Jays. The club wanted to use Morimando as a spot starter, but due to his late arrival in Toronto Saturday morning after travel and passport delays, he will instead help out the bullpen after everyone but Cody Allen worked on Friday. McAllister would be expected to last no more than a couple innings at most.

Michael Martinez was designated for assignment in order to add Morimando to the roster.

Morimando is in his sixth season in the Indians organization and his third season at Double-A. He is putting up some of the best numbers of his professional career – through 16 starts, he has a 10-3 record, a 3.09 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and opposing batters are hitting just .225 against him. He has struck out 73 batters in 93 1/3 innings.

He was a 19th round draft pick out of high school by Cleveland in 2011. He spent full seasons at Single-A Lake County in 2012 and High-A Carolina in 2013 and returned to the Mudcats to start 2014 before a permanent promotion to the RubberDucks in mid-July of that season. After a rough 2-6 record with a 3.83 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in ten starts, he returned to Akron for 2015.

The numbers were better in his second go-round with the ‘Ducks – he made 28 starts and finished the season 10-12 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. His efforts were rewarded as the Indians added him to their 40-man roster following the season.

It appeared as though he would be a candidate for the Triple-A rotation to start the season, but a logjam of pitching options there kept him in Akron.

He has pitched like a man looking for a relocation and promotion this year.

He was a perfect 4-0 in five April starts with a 2.00 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He followed with a season-high eight innings on May 10 and a high of eight strikeouts in a no-decision on May 26, leading to a 5-0 record for the month in six starts with a 1.38 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.

June was not as kind to the lefty – he was 1-3 in five starts for the second straight season. His ERA of 6.59 was highly inflated by two rough starts at the beginning of the month, when he allowed five runs on ten hits in four and two-thirds innings in a loss at Bowie on June 5 and seven runs on nine hits in five innings in a defeat at Harrisburg in his next start on June 11. He allowed eight runs over his next three starts (17 2/3 innings), striking out seven in two different games, but walking six in his third loss of the season on June 22 at Reading.

Despite the recent struggles, his efforts were still good enough to earn him a place on the Double-A Eastern League’s Western Division All-Star team.

He has been strong in eight home starts this season, posting a 6-0 record, a 2.28 ERA, and a 1.10 WHIP, but has been hurt in eight road starts, going 4-3 with a 3.91 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, but a batting average allowed that is percentage points better than at home. He has struck out 20 lefties while walking ten and held them to a .177 average in 27 2/3 innings, while right-handers have hit .244 against him with 53 strikeouts and 26 walks in 65 2/3 innings.

Control and walks have been problems for Morimando throughout his career, which could be compounded by a unique pitching style full of moving parts. He is averaging 3.5 walks per nine innings this season, or 9.38% of the batters he has faced. That rate is down slightly from last season (9.92%), but is up over his numbers at both Akron (6.91%), Carolina (8.84%), and combined from 2013 (8.10%). While he has allowed more free passes, he has been able to minimize the damage some by showing a steady decrease in hits per nine innings (7.4 this season after 7.9 in 2015 and 8.00 in 2014). He also keeps the ball in the yard, giving up just five homers in 93 1/3 innings this season (0.5 HR/9), just below his pro career mark of 0.6.

This season, more than years past, he is getting outs on the ground more than in the air and has benefited from some double play balls along the way.

Morimando is not a flamethrower, but will use the deception of his delivery and release point to his advantage on the mound. He has used a low-90’s fastball with sink, a curve, a slider, and a changeup in his arsenal.

Some have projected that his long-term outlook may be more of LOOGY at the big league level, but he will have the opportunity to show where he is at in his development Saturday against a heavily right-handed and homer-happy Jays lineup. If he can keep Toronto in its yard, he will have a chance to make it a memorable debut.

Photo: Tim Phillis/TCP Photography

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