Eli Morgan was recently named as one of five RubberDucks selected for the Eastern League All-Star Game. Much of his success can be attributed to an overhaul of his arsenal heading into 2019 that led to a strong debut at the Double-A level.
Morgan entered last winter with a three-pitch mix — fastball, change-up, slider — and a goal of improving that slider. At times in 2018, Morgan was effective for Single-A Lynchburg (Carolina League) but ran into issues on days in which the inconsistent slider wasn't working.
"He threw the ball very well for us but in the Carolina League, you play teams over and over and over," RubberDucks pitching coach Tony Arnold said. "As we started getting deeper into the season, guys were able to go up and either just lay off the change-up or sit on it and move up in the box. And at that time, he didn't have the weapons to stop it."
Morgan spent the winter focused on becoming physically stronger and to work on the slider. It progressed so well that Morgan also brought back a curveball that he hadn't thrown since college.
"That wasn't really our plan, it just kind of happened," Morgan said of his rediscovery of the curveball. "It was kind of the result of feeling confident in the slider."
With the effective addition of two consistent breaking balls he can count on, Morgan has been able to better make adjustments on a start-by-start basis. Since joining the RubberDucks, Morgan is 5-0 with a 3.08 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. He's also allowed more than two earned runs in only one outing in 2019.
"Just having four pitches, it makes it so if there's a day where my change-up isn't as good, I still have two different off-speed pitches to go to," Morgan said. "Where as last year if there was a day where my change-up wasn't on, I was kind of left with a fastball and a bad slider."
Morgan's secondary goal for this season is to ensure that his selection to the Eastern League All-Star Game doesn't lead to a downturn in the second half of the year. Last season, he struggled with fatigue as the season wound down.
For years, Morgan has pushed and been pushed by reliever James Karinchak. The two would throw as far as they could every day in long toss drills. Eventually, it was a bit too much.
"The biggest thing was probably doing a little too much between starts," Morgan said. "This year, I throw every day but have a better understanding of when I need to ramp it up and when I need to slow it down and what will make my body feel good. Last year was a learning curve."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.