Throughout his college career at Kansas State, A.J. Morris earned a reputation as one of the finest Friday night starters in the nation.
Now with his third organization in five years, the fourth-rounder is hoping to prove he has value at any point in the contest, whether he begins the game or enters out of the bullpen.
The right-handed Pittsburgh prospect allowed two singles over six shutout innings to lead the Double-A Altoona Curve to a 6-1 victory over the visiting Bowie Baysox on Monday.
"I thought it was a really good performance," said Morris (2-0). "I was able to command my fastball to both sides of the plate pretty well and that helped. The slider was working and I was getting the four-seamer down in the zone and getting ground balls.
"I'm not the guy that will punch out 10 or 12 batters a night. It's my job to put the ball on the ground and get quick outs."
Morris used a double play to erase Niuman Romero's leadoff single to center field, starting a run of 16 consecutive outs. John Ruettiger got Bowie's second hit with two outs in the sixth -- a base hit up the middle -- but the 27-year-old struck out Romero to strand the base runner before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Morris threw 49 of 72 pitches for strikes and induced nine ground-ball outs while facing one batter over the minimum.
He allowed one run -- a solo homer -- in his season debut April 5 and surrendered two runs in relief six days later. Since then, Morris has yet to allow a run over 18 2/3 innings, including two starts and four appearances out of the bullpen.
In total, the Texas native -- who missed the entire 2011 season due to right-shoulder surgery -- has allowed 12 hits over 24 1/3 frames. He's also struck out 15 batters and issued nine walks.
"It's not really stressed me out too much," Morris said about splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. "I've done both in my career, and at the end of the day, there are still three outs in an inning. Whether it's the first inning or the ninth inning, it's still the same.
"I'm the guy that goes in long relief and spot starts. My job is to eat innings, I love starting, but at the same time I love being in pressure situations. It is definitely a benefit to do both successfully, but right now my focus is on helping Altoona win in any way I can."
Morris was originally selected by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft, just weeks after finishing runner-up to Stephen Strasburg as the best collegiate player in America in the Golden Spikes Awards.
He was flipped to the Cubs with Michael Burgess and Graham Hicks in the Tom Gorzelanny deal in 2011 before being claimed in the Rule 5 Draft from the Cubs in December.
Morris started each of his 10 games in 2009, but he was moved to the bullpen in the middle of the 2010 campaign following his promotion to Class A Advanced Potomac. Sidelined for the entire 2011 season, Morris was used exclusively in relief with Class A Advanced Daytona in 2012 when he amassed seven saves, and he only started one-third of his 31 Southern League outings with Tennessee last season.
"It's just the way it has worked out," Morris said. "I came back from the surgery and I was lucky and blessed and fortunate that I was able to come back. You can't really look at the past.
"The Cubs took really good care of me and rehabbed me well ... and the Pirates have been nothing but welcoming. They made it an easy transition. They've helped me along the way, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. Now I'm just taking it one day at a time."
Ryan Beckman allowed a run on two hits and a walk over two innings in relief of Morris and Jhonathan Ramos worked around a hit in the ninth to seal the victory.
Bowie's Anthony Vasquez (0-1) gave up an unearned run on three hits over six innings. He issued four walks and struck out seven batters in a losing effort.