In his fifth start of the season, the lefty reclaimed his pinpoint dominance as a starting pitcher, tossing five scoreless innings against the Rays in Friday’s 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field.
It erased memories of his horrific start versus the Yankees last weekend, when he yielded six runs through 3 1/3 innings. During that start at Fenway Park, Morales surrendered four long balls.
Those issues have seemingly dissipated. By primarily leaning on his fastball and curveball, Morales mowed down the Rays’ order, allowing just two hits while striking out five batters.
The performance showed that Morales was mentally capable of overcoming his hiccups from a starting pitcher’s vantage point. Since last week’s start resulted in Morales’ first blemish, it raised questions about whether he’d bounce back.
But the 26-year-old hurler was never daunted by the adversity. Shortly after the subpar game against New York, he insisted to NESN.com that it was an aberration and that he’d rebound in his following start.
“That’s just baseball,” Morales said. “I’ll be all right. You have to be confident. The moment you lose your confidence, then that’s a problem.”
There was no lack of confidence on Friday. After struggling with his fastball and sinker command at Fenway, Morales was on cruise control, fanning Rays slugger Carlos Pena in the first and fifth inning.
His momentum almost evaporated in the fourth inning. With two outs in the frame, Morales walked B.J. Upton, Jeff Keppinger and Sean Rodriguez — with a balk sandwiched in between — to back himself into a corner.
Six pitches later, Morales responded to the situation by getting Luke Scott to whiff for a strikeout. The lone flaw for Morales was that he exhausted 95 pitches through five frames. It was a slight hint of inefficiency.
But Morales continued to validate his spot in the rotation, which is currently a six-man staff. With the memories of last week’s start hovering, Morales demonstrated the poise of a seasoned pitcher.
It’s admirable, considering he went three years without starting.