A strong start to the season for Lynchburg’s Eli Morgan earned him the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week award for games played between April 4 and April 14.
The third-year pro Morgan had previously won his league’s Pitcher of the Week award three times last season, doing so at the end of April in the Midwest League with the Class-A Lake County Captains before winning the Carolina League’s version at the end of June and again in the beginning of July while with the Hillcats.
Morgan has gotten off to an impressive start in his second season at Lynchburg after making 19 starts for the Indians’ High-A affiliate last season. He has made two starts and won both decisions, allowing just three total hits and two walks while striking out 15 in eleven innings of work.
The 22-year-old right-hander and eighth round pick in 2017 out of Gonzaga began his season on April 7 in the series finale between Lynchburg and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Looking to get the Hillcats a series win, Morgan worked six scoreless innings to earn his first victory of the season.
Morgan took the mound for the first time in 2019 with a lead after Oscar Gonzalez doubled home Tyler Friis to give the Hillcats a first inning lead. The host club stepped in against Morgan in the bottom of the inning and put two balls in the air for outs before a swinging strikeout ended the inning. It was a similar display from the Pelicans in the bottom of the second, as Morgan sandwiched a second strikeout swinging around fly outs to Gonzalez to open and close the frame.
Morgan retired the first eight in a row, getting his fourth flyout to Gonzalez in left and a strikeout before he allowed his first base runner of the season on a two-out walk. That batter was erased on a caught stealing to end the inning.
The young right-hander made it four straight innings with a strikeout in the bottom of the fourth when he set down the leadoff man swinging, but Myrtle Beach’s Jimmy Herron ended any no-hit threats with a single to center. Like the previous man to reach, he was quickly removed from the base paths, this time on the front end of a 5-4-3 double play ball to end the inning.
Morgan struck out two more in the fifth to give him six on the day, ending the inning with yet another fly ball out to protect his one-run lead. He added three more fly ball outs in the sixth, leaving with a 1-0 lead while facing the minimum in his first start of the year. Lynchburg added solo runs in the seventh and ninth for the 3-0 victory, their third of the season in four games.
He was back on the mound five days later, making his second road start of the season against the Down East Wood Ducks. The 6-2 Hillcats were once again given a shutout effort from Morgan, who did a five-and-fly while allowing just two hits and a walk on the night.
Unlike his previous effort, Morgan had some early foot traffic. After starting the bottom of the first with a swinging strikeout, he allowed a single to short to Bubba Thompson. He stole second, but he advanced no further as Morgan took matters into his own hands and struck out the three and four hitters swinging.
The strikeout was a big part of Morgan’s second start. He kicked off the second with his fourth K of the day (and his third in a row). After a pop to second, Yanio Perez singled to third, but he was caught stealing after what would become the last hit of the day for the Wood Ducks.
A Jodd Carter leadoff home run in the third gave Morgan a lead to work with and he protected it by starting and ending the bottom of the frame with strikeouts around a liner to center fielder Steven Kwan.
Lynchburg sent six men to the plate in the fourth to add to the lead. Nolan Jones singled before the next two batters were retired. He stole second and scored on a double by Jonathan Laureano to make it a 2-0 game.
Morgan was back to his swing and miss stuff in the home half, striking out the first two batters swinging before getting a fly to left to end the inning. He returned for the fifth inning, walking the leadoff hitter before a called third strike and two more outs in the air to end his outing.
The Hillcats bullpen handled things the rest of the way, working four scoreless and hitless innings, walking one, hitting one, and striking out five. The Lynchburg lineup added two more runs in the seventh and an extra insurance run in the ninth to wrap up a 5-0 victory to move the club to 7-2.
Of the 33 batters retired with Morgan on the mound in a span of eleven innings, 15 outs have come via strikeout and just two have been produced on the ground (his fourth inning double play ball against Myrtle Beach). He has been a fly ball machine, posting a 0.07 groundout-to-flyout ratio while holding opposing hitters to a .091 batting average with a 0.45 WHIP. Seven of the 15 left-handed hitters that he has faced have struck out and they are hitless against him.
Morgan is expected to make his third start and first home outing of the season Wednesday afternoon as the Hillcats host the Potomac Nationals in the finale of their three-game series before Myrtle Beach comes to town for four straight.
Photo: Joseph Doyer/MiLB.com