Four years ago, A.J. Morris looked like he was on his way to realizing the big league dream. Two organizations and a surgery later, nothing has changed.
The Pirates right-hander scattered six hits and a walk while fanning seven in the first complete game of his career as Triple-A Indianapolis blanked Durham, 4-0, on Thursday.
Only one of the hits against Morris went for extra bases -- Vince Belnome doubled to open the eighth inning. The 25-year-old right-hander threw 73 of his 96 pitches for strikes and recorded 13 ground-ball outs.
"Just commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate," Morris said of his success. "Just trying to get ahead early and get some early contact and trying to make them put the ball in play and it worked out."
Morris (1-1) earned his first International League victory in spectacular fashion after allowing three runs on six hits over six innings in his debut June 7. The Texas native earned a promotion after going 5-1 with 1.64 in 13 Eastern League appearances with Double-A Altoona.
"It was awesome," Morris said of learning about his promotion. "Great news when I got that call. Next day, it's back to work and continue the routine that I've been doing all season."
Originally selected by the Nationals in the fourth round in the 2009 Draft, Morris entered the 2011 season considered the club's No. 15 prospect. One Tommy John surgery and a trade later, Morris entered 2012 working out of the bullpen for the Cubs organization. After two years pitching predominantly as a reliever, the Kansas State University product found new life when the Pirates drafted him in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December.
"I've had my ups and my downs," Morris said. "I had the surgery and I've been with a couple of teams. The Pirates have been nothing but great. They've made me very comfortable. I feel like I've been here for years."
With all that in play, tossing his first complete game was a big accomplishment for the native of Humble, Texas.
"It feels great," he said. "You get mentally stronger whenever you go through the surgery and rehab and stuff. It's made me a better ballplayer, just being able to overcome things that are out of your control. It was a great overall night."
Despite the success, Morris is aware he's got more to do before he can reach the Majors. In fact, he thinks he is just one pitch away from having the ability to do so.
"Probably the changeup," he said. "It's a pitch that has developed for me significantly this year, but it's still coming down to trust. I think whenever I get that changeup to where I trust it completely and it's as good as my other two pitches, I'll be a complete pitcher."
Matt Hague and Chris Dickerson provided the bulk of the Indians' offense. Hague plated three runs and Dickerson reached base three times and scored twice.
Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson (0-1), who had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in January, made his first start for Durham since 2010, allowing four runs on six hits over 2 1/3 innings. Matt Andriese followed with 5 2/3 one-hit innings for the Bulls.