In order to make a roster spot available for Glen Perkins, who returned from the disabled list yesterday and hurled six strong innings in a win over the Pirates, the Twins demoted reliever Jesse Crain to Rochester. The move undoubtedly came as a relief to a number of Twins fans who have grown exasperated with Crain's recent struggles.
After starting the season well, allowing just one run over his first six appearances, Crain has fallen apart at the seams. In his seventh appearance he coughed up four runs in just 1/3 of an inning, and shortly afterward he was placed on the disabled list with a sore sholder. He hasn't been much better since returning, having posted an 8.49 ERA and 2.57 WHIP while allowing seven walks and 19 hits -- including three home runs -- over 11 2/3 innings of work. His ugly performance in the ninth inning of Sunday's series finale at Wrigley was the last straw for many fans. Indeed, the increasingly popular nickname "Crain-Wreck" has seemed fitting.
Personally, I remain a believer in Crain. I look at the solid numbers he put up last year in his first season back from reconstructive shoulder surgery, his quality performance in spring training this year and his excellent start to the regular season, and I see a pitcher who has proven capable of getting major-league hitters out. It seems clear to me that something is not right with Crain at this point in time, and moving him to the minors to get things sorted out is the right move. I'm hopeful that he can come back and be a contributor to the Twins bullpen later this season. Yet, as I look at the roster of the Twins' Triple-A affiliate, there's another bullpen arm that raises my intrigue, and that's Juan Morillo.
We haven't heard much about Morillo since his short stint with the Twins earlier this season ended quickly when he proved incapable of throwing strikes. Control has always been a cardinal issue with Morillo, which is why the Twins were able to pluck him off waivers from the Rockies in spite of the fact that he's one of the few pitchers in baseball who is legitimately capable of touching triple-digits with his fastball. The numbers during his initial stretch in the Twins 'pen were brutal: three appearances, two hits, five earned runs allowed and only one strikeout. Most perturbingly, he was able to get only 52 percent of his pitches into the strike zone. Yet, Morillo displayed a live arm and I vowed to track his progress with the Red Wings, hoping that he could discover some semblance of command and return as a potential impact arm later in the season.
Unfortunately, I sort of forgot about my vow and up until Crain's demotion had almost completely forgotten about Morillo. So yesterday, upon noting that Crain's absence opens another possible hole in the Twins bullpen, and I went and glanced at Morillo's Rochester numbers to see if he has made any strides with his control. The short answer: not really. But, there's still reason for optimism here.
Since joining the Red Wings, Morillo has made 16 relief appearances and totaled 23 2/3 innings of work. During that span, he has issued 16 walks. That's a rate of 6.2 BB/9 IP, which -- while an improvement from his absurd 8.4 BB/9 rate in Triple-A a year ago -- is quite terrible. There isn't really evidence that Morillo is on the uptick, either; in his past 10 appearances he's handed out 11 free passes in 13 2/3 innings.
Yet, a glance over the rest of Morillo's stat line sparks hope. For in spite of that horrendous control, he has still managed a solid 3.42 ERA during his time in Rochester, and has allowed only 14 hits (good for a .188 batting average against) while striking out 33 batters (good for a phenomenal 12.7 K/9 IP rate, which would be the best of his career). And while he's issued 11 walks in those past 13 2/3 innings of work, he's also notched 19 strikeouts.
It seems pretty clear that when Morillo is able to get the ball in the strike zone, he's extremely difficult to hit. But, obviously, his inability to find the zone on any sort of consistent basis is a huge barrier in his quest to become an effective reliever. The Twins' minor-league pitching coaches have a pretty good record with this type of thing, so I'm hoping against hope that with continued efforts Morillo can tame his blazing fastball and eventually provide some rocket fuel to a major-league bullpen that lacks hard throwers.
There's no doubt that the Twins lack sure options in the minors to solve their bullpen woes, but I would advise against giving up on Crain. And I'd also advise that we all keep an eye on that Morillo kid, because if he can somehow find the strike zone he could be a devastating weapon.