Secret weapon? Tigers' new BP pitcher wins raves for mimicking Sale's delivery
Boston — After the Tigers beat the Red Sox in the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday, Ronny Rodriguez, who had three hits with a double off lefty Chris Sale, came into the clubhouse and wrapped up Red Morrison in a bear hug and thanked him repeatedly.
You don’t know Morrison yet, but he was a secret weapon of sorts for the Tigers against Sale.
He is the club’s first-year left-handed batting practice pitcher. He spent four-plus years in the Yankees' minor-league system in the late-1980s, but he’s better known around baseball circles for his academy and training center in Tampa.
“Before spring training, I get all the Major League guys when they come down and I train them,” Morrison said. “I work with a lot of them. I always know how to pitch to guys and I know how to train them.
“I’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
Among his repeat clients are Red Sox slugger Steve Pearce, former Tiger Curtis Granderson and Seattle’s Mallex Smith. But it’s not who Morrison trains that sets him apart, it’s how he does it. He’s like a method actor. He gets into character.
To get the Tigers ready to face Sale, he studied video and was able to throw batting practice from the same unique arm slot that Sale pitches out of.
“I try to look at the lefty pitchers and see what he’s wearing, see how he pitches and try to put my arm in the same slot,” Morrison said. “When I see a pitcher, I try to mimic him and try to do the same things he’s doing.
“I am trying to give our hitters the best version I can of that pitcher.”
And yes, right down to how the pitcher wears his uniform. Before the Tigers faced lefty Eduardo Rodriguez on Wednesday, Morrison noticed that he wore his pants high.
“I had to wear those high pants and long socks,” Morrison said. “I want to duplicate what we’re going to face.”
Morrison stands 6-foot-1 and is solidly built, so he couldn’t precisely duplicate Sale’s skinny 6-6 frame.
“But I can act like it,” he said with a laugh.
The Tigers were in a bind this spring. It was clear with just a couple of weeks left in spring training that the left-handed batting practice pitcher they hired wasn’t working out. Bill Dancy, the Tigers minor-league field coordinator, had known Morrison from sending players to him to train.
“He told me if there was ever an opening for the Tigers, I’d be the first person on the list,” Morrison said. “I was out doing my lessons and training kids and the Tigers called saying, ‘Hey Red, we want you to come out. We need you.’
“I thought, what a great opportunity. Let’s run with it.”
It wasn’t the way he envisioned getting to the Major Leagues, but he’ll take it.
“This is a walk in the park for me,” he said. “It’s fun and I’m enjoying it.”
The Tigers are set to face two lefties in Chicago this weekend — Carlos Rodon and rookie Manny Banuelos. Morrison already knows what pitch he’s got to bone up on.
“They all ask for the cut fastball,” he said. “That’s what they want to see. If you are able to do that and let them see that pitch and they get better at hitting it — that’s what it’s all about.”
Gardenhire wouldn’t divulge exactly what the Tigers picked up on from the Red Sox dugout, but bench coach Steve Liddle guessed that Michael Chavis would be running in the sixth inning. And even though there was a 2-1 count on the batter, he called for an old-fashioned pitchout.
Catcher Grayson Greiner caught the high, outside fastball and threw a strike to second base. It was his American League-leading fifth caught-stealing.
“You do have a feel for things and Steve is really good at stuff like that,” Gardenhire said. “But after you throw over there x-amount of times, there’s a higher probability that he’s going to run. But it was a gamble because the count goes to 3-1.
“But Steve’s from Tennessee. He likes to gamble.”
Around the horn
Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer (quad strain) was scheduled to begin his rehab assignment with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers on Thursday.
Gardenhire said he expects Mercer to play two or three games and, if all goes well, possibly join the club in Philadelphia on Monday or Tuesday.
…Miguel Cabrera had his 10-game hitting streak snapped. It was his longest since he had a 10-game streak in 2016. The longest streak of his career is 20 games. Cabrera has had a hit in 15 of his last 16 games, and is hitting .344 over that stretch.
…Gordon Beckham, who started at shortstop Thursday, has hit Red Sox starter Rick Porcello about as hard as anyone. He went into the game with a .469/.486/.750 slash-line against the former Tiger.
On deck: at White Sox
Series: Three games at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
First pitch: Friday — 8:10 p.m.; Saturday — 7:10 p.m.; Sunday — 2:10 p.m.
TV/radio: All games on FSD/97.1
Probables: Friday — LHP Carlos Rodon (3-2, 2.89) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 2.70); Saturday — RHP Reynaldo Lopez (1-3, 7.46) vs. TBA; Sunday — LHP Manny Banuelos (1-0, 2.51) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (2-1, 3.16)
►Rodon, White Sox: A week ago at Comerica Park he limited the Tigers to one run and three hits over six innings, and other than Josh Harrison’s home run, they hit very few balls hard. He threw 48 fastballs (out of 95 pitches) and the Tigers’ took 13 called strikes off it. Passive approach.
►Norris, Tigers: Norris faced the White Sox last Sunday and shut them out on two hits over five innings. He smartly mixed all five of his pitches and he had full command of his fastball (89-93 mph). Of the 48 heaters he threw, many of them up in the zone, he got three swings and misses, 12 called strikes and 18 foul balls. No barrels.