Morillo seeks strong spring finish
Rockies righty poised amid pressure in effort to secure 'pen spot
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Right-hander Juan Morillo is calm for a guy essentially down to his last-chance Spring Training with the Rockies.
Morillo has held the opponent scoreless in nine of his 10 Cactus League appearances -- each of them one inning -- with eight strikeouts, 12 hits allowed and six walks. Known previously for his 100-plus mph fastball but poor control, Morillo has not walked more than one batter in any appearance.
This spring, Morillo is pitching without a safety net. He has no Minor League options, meaning the Rockies will have to expose him to other clubs via waivers to send him to the Minors. Yet, this is the calmest he has been in any Spring Training.
Despite the big right arm, Morillo has made just six big league appearances over the last three years.
"It's to his credit to get past all that disappointment over not having success," Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. "He's had it at the Minor League level, but it's never surfaced when he's gotten called up or when he's come to big league camp. A lot of times that's our measuring stick, what we see in Spring Training
"It's taken longer than we've anticipated or hoped, but delaying it is not denying it. He's taking this opportunity where he's gotten a lot of appearances, and he's making a serious, serious run to be one of those members of the bullpen."
In past springs, Morillo drew oohs and aahs with his radar readings, but never was a serious candidate to break with the club. Now Morillo, 25, has been unconcerned with impressing folks.
"I'm taking my time between pitches, seeing my target more, and I'm more relaxed and confident," Morillo said. "I played winter ball in the Dominican, and that's helped me a lot. I've also worked with [bullpen coach] Jim Wright, and I'm listening to what my coaches tell me."
Morillo worked on a changeup during winter ball, but he's stayed with the hard stuff -- the fastball and the slider -- throughout camp, and the results have been favorable.
With a little less than two weeks before the opener against the D-backs on April 6, Morillo still needs a strong finish to secure a spot.
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The Rockies also are paying close attention to actions other than pitching. Fielding has been a concern, and Apodaca said he hasn't had to handle the hard one-hopper to the mound. But he is passing the tests of step-offs, pickoff moves and execution of calls from the bench.
Most of all, he's starting to perform like a pitcher, rather than a thrower. A good sign came Sunday, when he threw a scoreless inning, with a walk and a strikeout, against the Indians. That came after his worst spring outing, when he gave up three hits and two runs against the Rangers on Friday.
"I see a much more poised individual, much more confident," Apodaca said. "Instead of what his thinking was before -- not wanting to walk somebody -- he's really focusing on the vision that the pitcher is required to focus on, and that's how to get this hitter out. When he makes a bad pitch, he feels what happens sooner and he makes quicker adjustments."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.