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Kevin Gray's On Baseball: From Einstein to Morrow, some big names at Fishers
MANCHESTER -- No shortage of star power.
The Fisher Cats opened the homestand against the Binghamton Mets with major leaguer Brandon Morrow on the mound and Einstein, the world's smallest stallion, sharing the spotlight at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Nobody really cared Tuesday night that the Fisher Cats (48-73) were in last-place. Kids from the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHad) took swings in the batting cage before the game, and Morrow threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a Fisher Cats jersey.
Known for an electric fastball and similar-looking slider, Morrow once fanned 17 batters in a one-hit complete game against the Rays. The 28-year-old was having a terrific season for the Blue Jays, throwing three shutouts, until suffering an oblique strain against the Nationals.
Morrow owns a 36-34 career record (4.19 ERA) in the majors but didn't quite excite the fans like Einstein. The pint-sized pinto once sat on Oprah's couch and became an obsession of Shaquille O'Neal, who wanted to buy the horse. (O'Neal even sent this reporter on a scouting mission to Tiz A Miniature Horse Farm in Barnstead. True story.)
Weighing 6 pounds and standing 14 inches tall, Einstein earned fame as the world's smallest stallion in the spring of 2010. His kids' book, “A Friend for Einstein,” rocketed to No. 2 on a New York Times bestseller list.
In pregame, some of CHaD's finest athletes took swings against Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano and WMUR-TV sports director Jamie Staton. Several Fisher Cats players fielded the grounders. Pretty cool.
“It was a special night filled with stars,” Sharon Brown, CHaD director of community relations, said.
On the diamond, Morrow oozed big-league talent (six strikeouts) and benefitted from an excellent catch by center fielder Jake Marisnick in the third inning. Pitching coach Tom Signore and Blue Jays minor-league pitching coordinator Dane Johnson kept a close eye on every pitch.
“He's been good. We're looking another solid outing,” Johnson said before the game. “He keeps progressing. When he's dominating the bottom of the (zone), he's a pretty tough guy to hit because he's got such great stuff.”
You know it's not an ordinary day at the ballpark when three dozen Major League Baseballs are needed. Morrow gave up a leadoff double to Juan Lagares before settling down and notching a string of zeroes. He retired eight straight Binghamton Mets while striking out in succession Lagares, Dustin Martin and Eric Campbell.
The Blue Jays wanted to see Morrow throw about six innings and 70 pitches. He exited in the fifth inning on his 67th pitch (45 strikes). He'll likely make one more start in the minors before returning to the majors.
Morrow makes a living ($4 million this season) in the bottom half of the strike zone. He pounds away at the knees with a 93-94-mph fastball, and then throws in a wrinkle with an 88-mph slider. He doesn't throw many off-speed pitches, defying a common expression from scouts who say “You need three quality pitches to be a starter in the big leagues.”
Morrow gave up three hits and didn't issue a walk. If he stays with New Hampshire for one more rehab start, which is likely the case, he would be in line to pitch the homestand finale against Altoona.
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MR. MANCHESTER: Catcher Brian Jeroloman, who has spent parts of four seasons with the Fisher Cats, has rejoined the team after spending five weeks in Dunedin, Fla., while rehabilitating a surgically repaired knee.
The three-time Eastern League All-Star suffered a torn meniscus while catching. He kept playing that night but could barely walk the following day.
“These things happens. It's out of your control. It's like I could have prevented the injury by doing more stretching,” said Jeroloman, who underwent knee surgery performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. “I'm excited to be back and working with Sal. I know these guys very well. It's pretty easy to come back to a team like this. Guys are welcoming. Those five weeks I was gone felt like a lifetime. I love the game so much. I'm glad to be back.”
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GAME DAY: Fisher Cats righty Deck McGuire (5-13, 6.17 ERA), who leads the Eastern League with 13 losses, takes the mound tonight against Binghamton. Lefty Darin Gorski (7-6, 4.03 ERA) will start for the Mets. Game time is 7:05.
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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @graymatter11.