Morales set to start over
Called from bullpen, he’ll replace Beckett
Franklin Morales said he would be focused on one thing only when he makes his sixth start of the season for the Red Sox in Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Twins at Fenway Park.
“I’ve just got to throw strikes, more than anything,’’ Morales said before Saturday night’s game. “If I just try to throw strikes, then I think I can help put the team in a position to win.’’
That’s precisely what the Red Sox will be looking for from their 26-year-old lefthander (2-2, 3.32 ERA) when he takes Josh Beckett’s turn in the rotation, opposing righthander Nick Blackburn (4-6, 7.43).
Morales went 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA in the five starts he made when Beckett went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation June 16.
When Beckett suffered a back spasm in the third inning of Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Tigers, Morales was among the relievers summoned from the bullpen to help piece together the victory.
Morales earned his first save of the season in the six-inning, rain-shortened game, retiring the first batter he faced before loading the bases when the game was halted.
With the addition of lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow, it made Morales the obvious choice to make a spot start Sunday when it became apparent Beckett would not be able to go.
“Like I’ve always said, I’m just an employee here,’’ Morales said. “All I’ve always tried to do is just my job in whatever situation, whether it’s as a reliever or as a starter. I think I’ve just got to do whatever I can to do my job. Whatever happens then will be what the Lord decides.’’
Sox manager Bobby Valentine had a more precise idea of what he wanted from Morales in his first career start against the Twins.
“He’s pitched very well for us every time he’s been on the mound as a starter or a reliever — not every time, but a majority of the time,’’ Valentine said. “I’m expecting for him to be healthy, sound, aggressive, and pound the strike zone. Use his three pitches and help us win a game.’’
When Morales was dispatched back to the bullpen, Valentine indicated it might not be a “permanent’’ move, that Morales could possibly see some time in the near future as a starter.
Was the future now?
“I don’t plan on going with six pitchers all year,” Valentine said. “So we’ll see.’’
Whatever the case, there was no mistaking the opportunity Morales had before him.
“This is a new opportunity that’s presenting itself to be a starter and I have to take things in stride,’’ Morales said. “I have to have patience and let things happen on its own. I have to let them happen in the flow of the game.
“As a reliever, you have to come out with the idea of being ready to go at any time. But as a starter you have to come out with the idea of trying to dominate the game and let whatever happens happen, with each inning dictating the situation of the game.
“As a reliever, you just approach it with the idea of not having to think about too much other than getting the batter out.’’
While he has made the transition back and forth from the bullpen look seamless, Morales said he won’t deviate from his single-minded purpose.
“I just have to make strikes and get batters out,’’ he said. “Nothing more, nothing less.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.