Searching for his second win in two months, Adam Morgan took the mound Tuesday in Clearwater and immediately worked himself into trouble. Two singles, two steals and a balk with both runners in scoring position by the Phillies left-hander gave Dunedin a 1-0 lead.
And then, suddenly, Morgan looked like the league's best strikeout pitcher. He struck out the side in the second inning, and in seven frames, whiffed a career-high 13 batters, holding the blue Jays to four hits and the early run for his fourth victory as Class A Advanced Clearwater held on, 3-1.
"That first inning was kinda rough," said Morgan, Philadelphia's third-round pick in last year's Draft. "I went out there and my arm was dragging. I tried to make adjustments, gave up a few hits, one was good, one was a bloop. I dunno, that balk -- that just happened. I can't really explain it. [Bad] situation."
Morgan's 124 strikeouts lead the Florida State League and would rank second in Philadelphia, where Cole Hamels has 131. Following the balk, he struck out six of the next eight batters he faced and allowed just a double in the fifth and a single in the seventh. Clearwater scored three in the seventh, highlighted by Brian Schneider's two-RBI double.
"I did all I could. Just don't give up, you still have to compete, things happen like that," Morgan said. "It's just a part of your character, you've just gotta deal with it, go out there and you gotta keep battling."
Colton Murray and Mike Nesseth each worked a scoreless frame to seal the four-hitter, with Nesseth earning his fourth save.
Morgan, the Phillies' third-round pick last year, is not ranked among the organization's top prospects at this point, although his Draft selection and emergence this year after skipping the Class A level have the Phillies excited. Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, said the team is impressed with what they've seen.
"This guy has a chance to move [up in the system] and knows what he's doing and has a good mix of pitches," Jordan told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The fact that he is doing well is no surprise."
Wins have eluded the Alabama product -- besides a "W" on July 2, his last came May 20 -- but with 27 walks in 110 innings, no one is complaining.
"I just go out there and I pride myself on not walking anybody," said Morgan. "Give them a chance to win. I can't control the hitter or umpires, all I can control is the pitches I can throw. I take it like that, my teammates are going to pick me up more times than not. I keep chugging along, you can't do anything about their run support. This is a great team, they're going to pick me up."
Morgan mowed down 10 batters in his first win against Bradenton on May 9 and has struck out six or more seven times since then. He said the difference in the second inning Tuesday was simply keeping the ball down in the zone.
"I made an adjustment. In my warm-up pitches, I was getting the ball down," he said. "Second and third -- really, the whole game, it was strike one, getting ahead."
Morgan's only lull this season came in June, when he struck out just 10 batters in 18 innings over four starts. He can't really explain the dip.
"I know that we were making a few mechanical adjustments, staying back instead of opening up, not trying to be too fine -- you end up with walks and hits," he said. "You're a bulldog and if you're gonna hit this, hit mine. Don't try to be too fine, go after them."
Morgan speaks like a veteran, although he's just 22. The Phillies opted to skip him over Class A Lakewood, a rare move that may have been a product of Morgan's collegiate experience at Alabama, where he pitched in the SEC Tournament and finished second in strikeouts his final year with the Crimson Tide.
He said it's been an adjustment in facing more aggressive hitters in Florida as compared to last summer with Class A Short-Season Williamsport.
"The hitters are a lot more disciplined, you get a lot more swings and misses, especially on the hard ones and in the dirt," he said. "They're very disciplined hitters, you gotta go out there and get ahead and be consistent. First-pitch strikes are huge in this league."
One thing Morgan doesn't worry about, though? His pitch count. He didn't even know how many he threw Tuesday, nor did he know what his limit was coming in.
"My arm felt great. I told my coach the other day, this is the strongest I've felt all year and it's weird because we're close to the end," he said. "Of course I want to go out there, but you don't want to argue. I figured there's a reason behind it. I didn't argue, I don't know what my count is, it's none of my business. I go out there and do my thing until they say that's it."